Psychological and Physical Impacts of Drug Use

Drug use -- whether it is one time, frequent drug abuse, or full-blown drug addiction, can have an extremely negative impact on a person’s psychological and physical well-being.  In this post, we’ll take a look at the ways a person’s mind and body are affected after using drugs.

Physical Effects of Drug Use

The human body is an amazing thing, full of organs and body systems that are all able to communicate with each other through electrical impulses and chemical processes.  However, once you introduce drugs into your body, you are introducing something that prevents those systems from working and communicating as they normally do.  Drugs are hard on your body, even if you are using them recreationally.  Long term, drugs can have a negative effect on all of your vital organs and can affect how they function.  Short term, they can have deadly side effects.  Here are some ways your body is physically affected by drug use:

  • Drugs affect your breathing. Many drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and opiates, have a sedating effect.  If you take these drugs, even in small quantities, your brain is no longer able to tell your respiratory system that it needs oxygen and that you need to take a breath.  When your brain stops communicating with your respiratory system, you either dramatically slow your breathing down, or you may stop breathing altogether.  During that time, you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain, heart, lungs, and other vital organs.  If you are deprived of oxygen for a few minutes, those organs will begin to shut down and may not regain function.  After a few minutes of not breathing and insufficient oxygen, your heart will stop.  Long term effects of drug use can include lung disease and lung cancer.
  • Drugs make your heart work harder. Certain drugs are stimulants, which means they amp up your body’s natural processes.  One of the things stimulants can increase is your heart rate.  When your heart beats faster than normal, it may not pump as effectively.  This means that with each beat, less blood is pumped throughout your body.  In the short term, the fast heartbeat can be really uncomfortable.  Long term, your heart can become overworked and can have permanent damage.
  • Drugs mess with your brain. Even if you only use drugs every once in a while, drugs have the ability to change how certain parts of your brain work.  The centers in your brain that control pleasure, your ability to learn and remember things, and the ability to control stress can all be affected and may not work as well.  Drugs can also affect your ability to sleep well, which will also have a negative effect on these brain functions.

Psychological Effects of Drug Use

We’ve talked about the physical effects of drugs, but what about the effects of drug use on your mental health?  When you compare drug users with non-drug users, drug users are twice as likely to be suffering from an anxiety or mood disorder.  In people that already have underlying mental health issues, drugs can increase the amount of symptoms they experience.  While not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted, there is always a chance, and it is higher in those that have a family history of addiction, or have been addicted to something in the past.  In addition to these, drug users may experience:

  • Increased anxiety or depression: Drugs that are stimulants can often increase anxiety or paranoid feelings, and drugs that act as depressants can increase symptoms of depression. This is especially true for people that have already been diagnosed with these conditions.
  • Problems with decision-making: As you read above, certain parts of your brain are affected each and every time you use drugs. The part of your brain that reasons and makes decisions can be affected temporarily or permanently, causing you to lose the ability to make good decisions.
  • Increased stress or problems at home and/or work: If occasional drug use turns into drug abuse, you may find that your home and work life suffer. Drugs can easily become more important than anything else, putting home and work responsibilities on the back burner.
  • Strained family and friend relationships: Using drugs can lead to withdrawal from family or friends, and even from most social situations, as the need to find more drugs gets more and more urgent. Long term, this can damage relationships with those you are close to.

Drug use in all forms, even when only used occasionally, can cause permanent damage to your physical and psychological well-being.  If you or someone you know is having problems with drug abuse or addiction, there are many resources out there to give you the help you need.  If you are experiencing problems with drug addiction, visit the SAMHSA National Hotline website, or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).   If you are a friend or family member looking to support someone you love, see our previous post on supporting friends suffering from drug addiction.


SAMHSA National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.

Narcotics Anonymous

The Nar-Anon Family Groups are a worldwide fellowship for those affected by someone else's addiction. As a twelve-step program, we offer our help by sharing our experience, strength, and hope.