Millions of people use drugs each year. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that in 2012, approximately 23.9 million Americans ages 12 and over had used illegal drugs at least once in the month before the survey. Some people assume that drug use has few, if any negative consequences. They believe that using drugs is simply an easy way to relax, focus or have fun. The truth about drug abuse, though, is that it can damage a person’s body in multiple ways, both physically and psychologically. Because of these potentially life-threatening dangers related to drug abuse, a person should avoid drug abuse whenever possible, and should seek out professional help if she is currently struggling with a drug use disorder.

Drug Abuse Statistics

Drug abuse occurs any time a person takes a drug illegally. This happens when a person takes a drug that is not legal in the United States, or when she takes a substance, such as a prescription medication, in any way outside the recommendation of a doctor and a prescription. The NSDUH lists the following drugs that were most commonly abused in 2012:

  • Marijuana: 18.9 million abusers
  • Prescription medications: 6.8 million abusers
  • Cocaine: 1.6 million abusers
  • Hallucinogens: 1.1 million abusers
  • Inhalants: 500,000 abusers
  • Heroin: 300,000 abusers

Depending on the type of drug used and frequency of use, substance abuse can cause a host of damaging medical conditions that may have long-term effects on the user.

Short-Term Health Effects of Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes several short-term health effects of using the above-listed substances:

  • Marijuana: drowsiness and relaxation, impairment of attention, coordination, judgment and short-term memory, increased heart rate and appetite.
  • Prescription medications: cardiovascular failure, coma, decreased respiration, drowsiness and relaxation, irregular heartbeat, nausea, seizures, severely increased body temperature.
  • Cocaine: decreased appetite and sleep, dilated pupils, increased blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate, nausea.
  • Hallucinogens: decreased appetite, depression, distortions in perception, dizziness, increased blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate, nausea, paranoia, tremors.
  • Inhalants: coma, confusion, dizziness and lightheadedness, hallucinations, headaches, heart failure, loss of coordination, nausea, seizures, suffocation.
  • Heroin: alternating states of wakefulness and drowsiness, clouded thinking, decreased respiration, dry mouth, nausea.

Individuals may abuse drugs for the euphoric effects they produce without considering the dangerous effects these substances may have on their health.

Long-Term Health Effects of Drug Abuse

Additionally, the NIDA lists the following potential conditions that can develop as the result of long-term substance abuse:

  • Marijuana: anxiety, bronchitis, chronic cough, depression and schizophrenia.
  • Prescription medications: anxiety, paranoia,
  • Cocaine: anxiety, digestive problems, insomnia, irritability, panic attacks, paranoia.
  • Hallucinogens: flashbacks, Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder.
  • Inhalants: muscle spasms and other permanent motor impairment, liver and kidney damage.
  • Heroin: collapsed veins, abscesses, infection of heart lining and valves, arthritis, diseases transmitted through the blood such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

One of the most potentially detrimental conditions that can develop from abusing drugs is a substance use disorder. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) define substance use disorders as happening “when a person needs alcohol or another substance (drug) to function normally,” and explains that “abruptly stopping the substance leads to withdrawal symptoms.” Substance abuse can also lead to addiction, which the NIH explains occurs when “a person has a strong urge to use the substance and cannot stop, even if they want to.” Additionally, tolerance, which occurs when a person needs to use larger amounts of the substance in order to achieve the same effects, is often one of the key features of addiction. Substance use disorders are dangerous because they make it more likely for the person to develop one of the health conditions listed above, as well as put her at greater risk of harming herself and others in an overdose, accident or a violent episode.

How to Get More Information About Medical Conditions Caused by Drug Abuse

When abused, drugs have the potential to cause serious physical and psychological harm. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and looking for help, please call our toll-free helpline right now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to talk in more detail with you about the effects that drug abuse has on the body, as well as ways that you can get help with a substance use disorder. Call us today to learn more.