Understanding the Health Consequences of Substance Abuse

Southern California is a region where everyone wants to live. The demands to earn enough money to live and keep up with everything else can be overwhelming. As a result, many people turn to substances to cope, and the problem is growing. In California, alcohol is the leading substance of dependence. A 2017 report showed 6% of Californians were dependent on alcohol, and 3% were dependent on drugs. Prevalence of substance use disorders was most common among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. As using drugs rates grow in areas such as California, individuals should be aware of the consequences of substance abuse. 

In 2019, there were 6,198 drug overdose deaths in California. Because difficulties from the pandemic that started in 2020 escalated, substance misuse and overdose rates in the state and across the country grew. Between October 2019 and September 2020, there were about 89,000 drug overdose deaths. That number rose to an estimated 100,000 between 2020 and 2021 as a result of the current health crisis and growing economic problems.

The consequences of substance abuse come from damage done by the substances. Because of damages, many of the long-term effects take a long time to correct or may be permanent. It is important to understand the consequences of drug abuse and alcohol abuse.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Although California’s campaigns to reduce underage drinking are more successful than those in many other states, it has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths among adults of legal age. In 2020, there were 11,000 alcohol-related deaths in the state. According to the CDC, these are some common long-term effects of alcohol abuse.

Organ Damage

Damage to the liver is the most well-known form of organ damage. In addition to this, alcohol can damage the brain, heart, intestines, and other organs. Because alcohol consumption often leads to overeating and inactivity, it can contribute to obesity. 

These are some problems that occur as a result of long-term alcohol misuse:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Reduced Immunity

Alcohol reduces natural immunity. As a result, people are more susceptible to getting sick. In addition to colds, people who abuse substances may contract other viruses easily.


People who abuse alcohol for long periods of time are more susceptible to developing these forms of cancer:

  • Liver
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Voicebox
  • Esophagus
  • Colon
  • Rectum
  • Breast

Social, Cognitive, and Mental Health Problems

Social, learning, and mental health problems are all tied to long-term alcohol misuse as well. These are some potential mental health problems that can arise due to alcohol abuse:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Family problems
  • Employment problems
  • Dementia
  • Poor academic performance

How Cocaine Affects the Body

In 2019, 2.9% of California’s adult population used cocaine within the last year. Because of its stimulant properties, people who want more energy often misuse it.

 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some effects that happen as a result of long-term cocaine use. Below we discuss some of these effects.

Neurological Problems

Because of prolonged cocaine use, people may be more susceptible to these problems:

  • Bulging cerebral blood vessels
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Movement disorders
  • Poor decision-making abilities
  • Inhibition of impulses
  • Shorter attention span

Organ Damage

Because it can affect blood flow in the body, cocaine use can lead to several types of organ damage. These are some potential effects:

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers or tears
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malnourishment
  • Stroke
  • Heart inflammation
  • Aortic rupture

Psychological Problems

Since cocaine alters the way the brain sends and receives signals, cocaine use can lead to several psychological issues. This is just one of the many consequences of substance abuse. 

Psychological problems due to cocaine use:

  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal-related irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia

Bodily Damage

Depending on the route of drug use that a person uses, it can lead to various different types of bodily damage. For example, snorting cocaine can cause frequent nosebleeds. Someone who injects cocaine may have permanent scars or discoloration on the skin as a result. People who smoke cocaine can develop permanent lung damage.

How Heroin Affects the Body

In 2018, heroin-related deaths in California totaled 778, which was an increase from the prior year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some of the long-term effects of heroin use.

Neurological Damage

Heroin alters how the brain functions. These are some of the effects that happen as a result of brain changes:

  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Deterioration of white matter
  • Poor decision-making abilities
  • Inability to regulate behavior
  • Tolerance and physical dependence

Organ Damage

Heroin can damage multiple organs. For example, heroin can cause damage to the intestines and cause several problems. These are some examples of the many potential effects of organ damage that happen as a result of long-term heroin use:

  • Constipation
  • Lung damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Heart attack and stroke

Bodily Damage

Some types of damage to the body depend on the route a person uses to consume heroin, and these are some possible types of damage as a result:

  • Skin discoloration and scarring
  • Septum bleeding and perforation
  • Collapsed veins
  • Hepatitis and HIV
  • Immune system dysfunction

Psychological Problems

There are several potential psychological problems that may develop as a result of heroin use. For example, these are some common effects:

  • Depression
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

How Prescription Opioids Affect the Body

In 2018, 45% of California’s drug overdose deaths were from opioids, totaling more than 2,400. According to the National Institutes of Health, the following are some of the effects of opioid use.

Psychological and Neurological Problems

The brain sustains damage from long-term opioid use. This is just one of the many consequences of substance abuse. Long-term opioid use also alters psychological function as a result. This can cause a wide array of problems. For instance, these are some potential long-term effects of opioid use:

  • Muscle twitches
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety

Organ Damage

Opioids can cause damage to the lungs, heart, and other organs. These are some potential effects as a result of prolonged use of opioids:

  • Sleep-disordered breathing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Reduced liver function
  • Chronic constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart attack or stroke

Multiple System Damage

In addition to the brain and other organs, opioids can damage several systems. For example, these are some damages that researchers found linked to long-term opioid use:

  • Musculoskeletal dysfunction
  • Endocrine damage
  • Immune system damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Bone fractures

How Methamphetamines Affect the Body

Between 2008 and 2017, meth-related hospitalizations increased by 290% in California. Emergency room visits tied to meth increased by 604% during the same period. These are some of the long-term effects that occur as a result of methamphetamine abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Psychological Problems

Like the previous drugs listed, meth also alters brain chemistry. Because of this, its effects can last even after a person detoxes and stops using it. These are some potential long-term psychological effects of meth abuse:

  • Confusion and insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disturbances
  • Violent behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions

Neurological Damage

In addition to the psychological effects of damage to the brain, there may be long-lasting neurological effects. For instance, these are some possibilities:

  • Poorer memory
  • Poor emotional regulation
  • Impaired visual learning
  • Reduced motor speed
  • Poorer judgment and decision-making abilities
  • Higher risk of Parkinson’s disease

Organ Damage

Meth damages other organs in addition to the brain. For example, these are some of the possible effects of other organs sustaining damage as a result of meth abuse:

  • Stroke
  • Weight loss
  • Liver damage

Bodily Damage

Skin sores that people develop when they use meth typically clear up after they stop using the substance. However, scars may be permanent.

 Also, many people develop what is called “meth mouth,” which comes from tooth decay. Consuming meth can lead to tooth decay. Also, the combination of poor dental hygiene and malnutrition often contribute to tooth loss.

Treatment To Combat the Consequences of Substance Abuse

Although the consequences of drug abuse and alcohol abuse may come with long-term effects, it may not be too late to prevent some problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and wants to overcome it, we are here to help. 

Harmony Place of Woodland Hills offers a variety of treatment programs and approaches, addressing addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more about the consequences of substance abuse and how to overcome addiction, please contact us.