Illicit drugs, and even several legal ones taken abusively, are poisonous to the body. Your body is made up of many systems, the respiratory, circulatory, nervous and muscular-skeletal systems among others, that work to keep you healthy and functioning. When you take drugs for even a short time, you impair those functions. Long term use can cause severe damage, alteration or even stoppage of these systems This can result in a reduction of the quality of life, or even death.
An addict’s body regularly endures toxic doses of drugs. As time passes, the effects on the brain and body that will be described later on, are intensified according to:
- General level of health before taking drugs
- Genetic predispositions
- Length of time they’ve been taking the drug for
- The method by which the take the drug
- The concentration in which they take the drug
The drugs themselves come in different categories and affect the brain and body according to their classification:
Stimulants: e.g. cocaine, caffeine, methamphetamine. These drugs “speed” you up and give you energy by stimulating the nervous system. They are often taken as a confidence booster and produce a euphoric, manic high in the user, that may make them feel omnipotent.
Depressants: e.g alcohol, sedatives and tranquilizers These tend to have the opposite effect to stimulant drugs in that they induce a sense of calm in the user They also slow the heart rate, brain function and the respiratory system.
Hallucinogens: e.g. marijuana, LSD, ketamine. These drugs alter the perception of reality. Users often report seeing and hearing things that others do not. Perception of colour and light may be altered as well.
Effects of the use of these drugs
Cocaine is one of the most popular drugs used worldwide. Long term use results in severe damage to the respiratory system. Cocaine users tend to have trouble breathing, experience an eating away of the nasal and sinus tissues and have chronic chest pain. Cocaine also weakens the heart and leaves the user open to a host of cardiovascular issues.
Perhaps some of the worst effects of cocaine are on the brain. The drug ages the brain and shrinks its grey matter resulting in permanent cognitive disabilities and memory loss.
Like cocaine, other stimulants like methamphetamine leave their mark on the body. They alter metabolism so the addict’s body gains no weight, no matter what they consume. They also create long term problems in the stomach and muscular skeletal system. Stimulants often leave long term abusers open to stokes, seizures and hemorrhaging in the brain.
In terms of depressants, alcohol has some of the highest rates of abuse around the world.
Alcohol is often taken along with other depressants like sedatives. The combination has often proven lethal as alcohol with these drugs causes the heart rate and breathing to become dangerously slow.
Long term alcohol abuse can cause irreversible damage to the liver. Alcoholism also results in severe malnourishment which in turn gives rise to deficiencies in other parts of the body. Brain function, particularly memory, is also affected.
Possibly the most frightening about mind altering drug use is that the hallucinations can become permanent, setting off other mental health issues.
Generalized anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia are also some long term effects of hallucinogens.
Dangers of Tolerance and Addiction
Beyond the physical ill effects of drugs, there exists the potential for the user’s body to build up a tolerance to the chosen narcotic.
Tolerance is where the body stops experiencing the “high” unless the user takes larger and larger doses of the drug.
All this time, the drug is changing the brain’s pathways, so that the body cannot function without it. At this point, the user is said to have an addiction.
At the addiction stage, the user is prepared to do anything necessary to continue taking the drug. This usually causes massive disruption to their lives and relationships.
Seeking help to cope with addictions
When the addict admits that the drug use is not helping them and they are ready to seek help, there are a few options open to them.
One would be to check into a rehabilitation or recovery facility. Many of these facilities like White River Recovery in the Netherlands help the addict through their initial “detox” period. This is where they break through the brain and body’s first level of resistance to letting the drug go.
Facilities like these may also offer long stay options, where the addict can undergo a programme of counselling and positive reinforcement to assist in their recovery.
An addict can also undergo psychotherapy while they undertake a programme of medications to ease them off the drug.
The psychotherapy helps them identify dysfunctional behaviour patterns which cause them to seek drugs.
The medications have similar effects to the drugs they use to take, which helps them avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. Other medications help by causing illness when they take the drug, thereby discouraging the activity.
Ultimately, a recovering addict should have access to long term care and support through people like David Goodlad because their condition is a chronic one, where they are likely to relapse into drug use several times before they gain control over the habit.
It is important that the addict creates a system that helps them to circumvent temptation.
They need to avoid:
- Places and people that encourage drug use
- Occasions that bring up memories of drug use (birthdays, celebrations)
- Situations that have been identified as leading them to take drugs (e.g. arguments with relatives)
It is important to recognise that not only the addict needs help coping. People who are close to them are usually traumatised by their illness and may need counselling of their own.
Relatives and friends may need to create their own support network of people in similar situations where they can discuss their experiences and express their emotions frankly and without judgement.
Taking therapy with the recovering addict may also help them resolve several underlying issues.
Coping with and recovering from a drug addiction is hard work. However, it is necessary as long term drug use has the ability to permanently damage the body and the mind.