“Drugs and alcohol are bad for you.” Almost every American has grown up with a similar message, yet there’s a severe disconnect between what people say and what people do. Despite decades of anti-drug messaging, drug use is still generally high – most Americans have tried illicit drugs at some point in their lives, and over half of Americans have had alcohol at some point in the past month.
It’s not just the allure of something taboo – drug use is undoubtedly glorified, and while a lot of effort is given in spreading the message that drugs can wreck lives, not too much time is devoted to helping people understand exactly how and why drugs and alcohol are so dangerous.
We’re going to go over some of the basic examples of how drugs and alcohol can damage the body, beginning with the surface level.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Skin Health
The skin is the body’s largest organ, spanning pretty much all of our surface area save for a few select exceptions. Skin is generally robust, keeping the body itself safe from a very large list of dangers, while being susceptible to just a few things, including certain strong bases and acids, excessive heat, or lack thereof, radiation, and threats from within.
Alcohol in particular is one of the bigger causes of overall damage to the body, simply because the body produces more toxic byproducts when metabolizing alcohol over other drugs.
While drugs like cocaine and heroin have a much higher risk of developing physical dependence and leading to dangerous, lethal consequences through overdose or continuous organ damage (particularly to the heart), alcohol produces acetaldehyde when broken own in the liver, stressing the body, causing dehydration, flushing the skin due to a release of histamines (often released in response to allergic reactions or bug bites), and causing dilation of the pores, pimples, acne, white/blackheads, and inflamed cysts.
Alcohol also damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to malnutrition through lack of proper nutrient absorption. This can cause mineral and vitamin deficiencies, which has a great impact on the health and appearance of the skin, and generally leaves your body prone to diseases and illnesses.
Other drugs also affect the skin. Skin sores are particularly common in meth addicts, due to the unique quality of severe itchiness in the skin, coupled with dryness, leading to easily broken skin. Depressants and drugs that negatively affect blood pressure and circulation, like opioids and sedatives, can slow heartrate to such a degree that abscesses and wounds begin to form on patches of skin due to poor circulation.
Fast weight gain and weight loss also commonly accompany drug use, particularly in the use of stimulants and alcohol. Alcohol is surprisingly high in calories, while offering no nutritional benefits most of the time. While it depends on what you’re drinking, you usually end up consuming little to no nutrition while drinking, and the stronger the booze, the more calories it has per ounce.
This leads to weight gain despite very poor nutrition. Being drunk a lot of the time doesn’t leave much room for exercise or hygiene, often leading to uncontrollable and rapid weight gain. The term “beer belly” is not unique to the consumption of beer and is simply the cause of consuming too many calories, often in liquid form. Alcohol is often accompanied by fatty foods or salty foods. While alcohol affects the absorption of nutrients, leaving you significantly weakened, it does nothing to halt the process of turning beer, dietary fat, or sugar into energy, and stored fat.
Stimulants, on the other hand, are more likely to help you burn calories – at an alarming rate. Amphetamine and methamphetamine are often abused not only for their highs, but as a way to quickly shed some pounds. This is because meth and amphetamine cut into a person’s appetite, leaving them satisfied with little to no food. You tend to forget about your caloric and nutritional needs when you’re high on speed or Adderall, and this coupled with other unhealthy habits usually leads to a skin-and-bones figure, alongside other consequences of malnutrition such as dental problems, dehydration, hair loss, nail loss, and sores.
Drug Use and Organ Health
While the long-term effects of alcohol and drugs are usually the most noticeable on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that’s arguably more dangerous and disconcerting.
When taken regularly for weeks and months, every single addictive drug leads to damaged organs.
- Stimulants such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine bump the heart and brain into overdrive, greatly increasing the risk of a stroke and of a heart attack. Methamphetamine in particular is very damaging to the brain, and is neurotoxic in a sense, potentially altering the way the brain perceives and processes serotonin, a crucial drug in mood management, appetite, sleeping cycles, and several other functions. Meth and other stimulants also damage the kidneys at high dosages.
- Depressants like benzodiazepine (when coupled with other depressants), tranquilizers, and other sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs have an opposite effect, slowing down blood pressure and heart rate often to dangerous levels if misused, sometimes leading to death due to oxygen starvation and arrested breathing.
- Alcohol damages the liver, kidneys, brain, heart, stomach, colon, pancreas, and throat, while drastically increasing a person’s risk for developing cancer.
- Nicotine and marijuana when smoked line the lungs with tar, which has long been proven to be highly carcinogenic, as well as dangerous for other people due to the amplified effects of second-hand smoke.
- Much like depressants, natural and subscription opioids can also slow down breathing to the point of death, or in cases of survived overdoses, may cause paralysis due to oxygen deprivation.
Drugs like marijuana and most hallucinogens are not physically addictive, but they are dangerous in a non-therapeutic setting, as misuse or psychological dependence can lead to other dangers. There are also few studies pointing towards long-term damage caused by these substances, but there also isn’t enough evidence to suggest that they are completely safe for recreational use.
Excessive Risk Taking
Drugs and alcohol have direct effects on the human body, but they also severely impair the way we think. This usually leads to a lack of inhibition and an increased amount of risk-taking behavior, sometimes leading to potentially violent confrontations, sexual promiscuity (leading to an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases), and physical harm.
Drug use is something we think we can control, especially when we’re younger, and especially when skirting the edge of danger without having tasted the consequences is both fun and exhilarating. But as countless stories and lives have proven, it’s never fun to be addicted, and even if most people who experiment with drugs once or twice don’t get hung up on them, millions of Americans struggle with drug abuse every year, with tens of thousands of them dying form overdoses, or ending up in hospital beds.