Substance use affects nearly every area of the body. With each recurring use, your body faces the risks of worsening side effects and changes that put your health at risk. Substance use has been directly linked to changes in a person’s physical, cognitive, mental, and emotional well-being. With each use, and over prolonged periods, the side effects of substance use will continue to develop and worsen.
The team at Pacifica Treatment Centre wants to help inform our community by exploring some of the research and literature on substance use. Learning more about substance use and recovery from an academic research standpoint can be very enlightening. Understanding where certain behaviours or feelings come from can give you the confidence to deal with them in a constructive and healthy way.
How Substance Use Affects The Body
As mentioned above, it’s important to understand all of the ways in which substance use can affect the human body. The impacts can be categorized into physical, cognitive and emotional groupings, each of which encompasses a broad set of individual side effects.
Impact on Your Physical Wellbeing
When you introduce a substance into the human body, it is bound to have an impact. These impacts often manifest physically and can be positive or negative. The positive physical impacts of substances include a reduction in pain, hyper focus, and increased energy levels. The negative physical impacts of substances include headaches, muscle soreness, and fatigue. Every substance has a set of side effects and every person will be impacted differently. Not everyone will feel the physical impacts of substances, but for those who do, they can be serious.
Based on data collected by the National Institute of Health (NIH), people with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) are prone to other associated health issues, which can include:
- Lung damage
- Heart disease (Endocarditis)
- Nerve damage
- Dental issues
- Hepatitis C
- Skin infection (Cellulitis)
Imaging scans, chest X-rays, and blood tests can show the damaging effects of long-term drug use throughout the body.
Impact on Your Cognitive Wellbeing
A SUD is a disorder of altered cognition. The areas of the brain and the processes that are rooted in SUDs have substantial overlap with many of our essential cognitive functions, including:
- Learning ability
- Memory and recollection
- Attention span
- Impulse control
Cognitive ability is most at risk during the formative years of youth and adolescence. During this time frame, the brain is in a highly malleable state of neuroplasticity. This allows you to learn new things quickly and efficiently as a teen/young adult, but it leaves your brain especially vulnerable to the impacts of substance use. If substance use continues into adulthood, these structural changes become increasingly difficult to reverse or repair.
Repeated and prolonged substance use can alter the chemical composition and structure of the brain. This essentially engrains the behaviour that encourages more substance use, through a process called maladaptive learning. This state of altered cognition can create imbalances and deficiencies of key hormones responsible for stable mental health.
Impact on Your Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing
Substances have varying effects. Some act as stimulants, others act as depressants, along with a range of other feelings and sensations. Mental health is a broad assessment of how you feel on a daily basis, and substances by their nature, can and eventually will cause problems.
Substance use tricks the brain into releasing ‘feel good’ or reward chemicals. Over time, your brain learns a pattern of behaviour which inhibits the natural release of these chemicals until you use substances again. As you can imagine, this is highly problematic. Your happiness and positivity are essentially being held captive, unable to be triggered by everyday interactions or things you used to love.
Substance Use and Mental Illness
The discussion around substance use and mental illness is complicated and remains a highly researched topic. It is often considered to be a chicken and the egg situation, does mental illness contribute to SUDs? Or do SUDs contribute to the onset of mental illness?
According to the NIH, Researchers have found that about half of individuals who experience a SUD during their lives will also experience a co-occurring mental illness and vice versa. Co-occurring disorders can include
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
If you would like to learn more about this, click here to read our full blog on The Connection Between Substance Use and Mental Illness. We explore this topic in much greater detail and what options you have available to you.
Increasing the Risk of Recurring Use
SUDs certainly are a vicious circle. Recurring use alters your physiology, which rewards even more use, and the spiral continues further and further. Unless of course you or a loved one intervene, stopping the cycle and fighting back with positive lifestyle change.
Dr. George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism had this to say about substance use; “A common misperception is that addiction is a choice or moral problem, and all you have to do is stop. But nothing could be further from the truth.” He continues. “The brain actually changes with addiction, and it takes a good deal of work to get it back to its normal state. The more drugs or alcohol you’ve taken, the more disruptive it is to the brain.”
Battling and overcoming a SUD is challenging, but you don’t have to walk that path alone.
Pacifica Treatment Programs
Pacifica offers a continuum of programs and services ranging from pre-engagement to continuing care up to 18 months post-treatment. Our programs promote enhanced quality of life, well-being, and healing on a cognitive, physical, emotional, spiritual, and practical level.
The aim is to improve self-esteem, repair relationships with self and others, and set goals to build a solid foundation for sustainable change. We utilize a variety of therapeutic approaches including cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoeducational programming, experiential learning, meditation, group therapy, self-soothing and grounding techniques, and spiritual development.
Substance Recovery Programs Available in Vancouver, BC
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, reach out to the team at Pacifica Treatment Centre to learn more. Pacifica provides in-residence treatment and community-based services for individuals experiencing problematic substance use, in conjunction with concurrent mental health concerns and trauma.
To learn more about our programs or to take the first step toward recovery, call 1-866-446-0668 (24hrs) or schedule an appointment online today!