Even taking drugs just the once can have a negative impact on your body and mind, though the health risks increase with repeated drug use, and CDC figures show that more than 100 Americans die daily from drug overdoses. Drug effects vary from one substance to another, and even related drugs like the various stimulants, opiates and hallucinogens can produce differing symptoms. As no one knows exactly how they will react to taking a given substance, particularly as so often illicit drugs are far from pure, this makes it especially dangerous to experiment with drugs.
Beyond the short-term effects of drug use, which you experience in the immediate hours and days of taking drugs, according to Northern Arizona University their health effects include:
- Marijuana. Although cannabis is often seen as a safer alternative to tobacco, this is far from the case. Respiratory infections and a condition similar to emphysema occur with chronic marijuana use. Your immune system also becomes impaired, leaving you more susceptible to infections in general. Marijuana smoke additionally has more chemicals that cause cancer than tobacco smoke, so lung and mouth cancer are a real possibility with heavy use.
- Cocaine. As this stimulant puts up your heart rate and blood pressure, you are more likely to experience a heart attack, even if your heart is in good shape. Your breathing rate also increases with cocaine use, which puts you at risk of a respiratory arrest where you stop breathing. As cocaine raises your temperature, there is additionally a risk you may overheat, which is potentially fatal.
- Amphetamines and methamphetamine. You risk the same cardiac and respiratory complications as with cocaine abuse. Poor co-ordination, tremors, anxiety and insomnia are also common.
- Heroin and other opiates. Even if you abuse prescription painkillers like codeine, the risks from heavy use are no less than abusing heroin. They are just as addictive and with high doses there is a risk of difficulty breathing, collapse, seizures and coma.
- Hallucinogens, including PCP and LSD. These are potentially just as dangerous as other illicit drugs, with speech and memory problems, mood disturbances, organ failure, seizures and coma all a possibility.
- Depressants such as pills for anxiety and insomnia. Tolerance to tranquilizers and sedatives quickly develops, leading to higher doses and with this a greater risk of dependency and adverse effects, including respiratory distress and loss of consciousness.
Effects of Drugs Use
Beyond the negative impact that drug misuse has on your body, it also has an adverse effect on your brain, leading to changes in mental function and mental wellness. While users typically take drugs to achieve a given psychological effect, whether a high or relaxation, it isn’t possible to escape the side-effects of PCP that accompany the more pleasant feelings associated with drug use. To understand the mind-altering properties of drugs, it is important to appreciate the chemical changes that occur in your brain through their use.
For instance, as Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania discusses, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, known as TCH, rapidly enters your brain and binds to the cannabinoid receptors there. Your body produces natural cannabinoids that usually attach to these same receptors and slow down cell communication, but TCH overpowers the endocannabinoid system so that the natural cannabinoids are unable to function as usual, leading to symptoms such as euphoria, altered thought processes, reduced reaction times, panic and poor memory.
Meanwhile, Yale University explains that cocaine boosts levels of dopamine in your brain. It is able to do so by blocking the pump that usually removes dopamine from the gap between nerve cells to end their communication with each other, so dopamine builds up in the gap. While this initially leads to feelings of pleasure, with regular use it becomes more difficult to experience enjoyment from other things in your life.
Alternatively, when it comes to opiates, Macalester University reports how the chemicals bind opiate receptors in the brain and that this explains the drugs effects within your body. However, opiate binding also activates dopamine, which is why users experience a buzz, and as dopamine is involved in the reward pathway, this binding also helps to reinforce the habit, which is why opiate dependency and interacting with the receptors for serotonin, hallucinogens produce a complex range of symptoms varying from changes in vision, hearing and perception to reduced concentration, confusion and difficulties with sleep.
Effects of Drug Abuse
To appreciate how addiction develops, it is essential to understand how addictive drugs influence the brain’s reward pathway. As the University of Utah discusses, when drugs activate the dopamine system, this produces feelings of intense pleasure, far greater than that felt from natural rewards like food, which makes these substances so appealing. Your brain then tries to restore the balance by adapting to repeated drug use by reducing how many dopamine receptors there are at the junction between nerve cells. It also increases the number of transporter pumps that clear dopamine from its brain cells so that the feel-good chemical stays around for a shorter time. While these changes mean that your brain responds less intensely to the drug, it also means that you don’t get the same sense of pleasure from other activities in life. This tolerance to the drug results in you taking higher doses to achieve the effects of drugs you have become accustomed to. With time, it isn’t just your brain’s reward pathway that changes, as chronic use triggers alterations in those areas that help you to make decisions and judgments, remember and learn. These changes allow behaviors related to drug-seeking to become hard-wired, so much so that it almost becomes like a reflex. At this stage you are no longer simply a drug user, but you are now an addict.
Once an addict you continue to use drugs, no matter what the cost, and neglect other things in your life. Even if you want to quit at this stage, it is incredibly hard to do so owing to the intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings you experience when you try to come off drugs. This is why a supervised withdrawal from drugs, followed by a period of drug rehab, is vital if you are to get clean from drugs and stay that way.