Substance abuse harms the body in many ways, and the reproductive system is no exception. Long-term substance abuse can cause a person to become infertile and also develop other reproductive disorders.
The Male Reproductive System and Addiction
The male reproductive system includes the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. These glands produce hormones that stimulate testosterone production. The testicles also produce sperm and make key hormones, one being testosterone, which regulate male sexual characteristics and behaviors.
Other hormones are produced by the reproductive glands to help sperm reach maturity in the testes. Testosterone produced in the testes circulates in the blood back to the hormone-producing areas of the body to make more hormones.
Research has revealed that long-term alcohol abuse can inhibit the production of the hormones needed to maintain a healthy male reproductive system. Alcohol abuse can affect sexual functioning and impairs sperm production.1
Opioid addiction can have similar effects on the male reproductive system. Any drugs containing opiates or opioids can cause an inability to achieve or maintain an erection and result in decreased sexual desire. Long-term use of opiates or opioids can disrupt the process of testosterone production, which results in low testosterone and decreases the quantity and quality of sperm. Varying degrees of these disruptions will depend on which drug is being abused, the doses, and how long the man has been using opiates or opioids.2
The Female Reproductive System and Addiction
The female reproductive system includes three basic parts: the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain and the ovaries. These regions in the brain work together to produce hormones that trigger ovulation and stimulate the ovaries to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause menstruation and have other important jobs. Estrogen has strong effects on female skeletons and is important to keeping bones healthy. Abusing drugs or alcohol disrupts these processes.
In many different studies, women with an addiction to alcohol were shown to have a wide range of menstrual and reproductive disorders. These ranged from an irregular menstrual cycle to a complete stop of menstruation. A halt of ovulation resulting in infertility was also observed. Women who abuse alcohol can experience early menopause or a disturbance of the normal secretion of female hormones.
Permanent damage to the male and female reproductive systems is possible with long-term substance abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, it’s essential to seek professional help before any medical problems develop or to prevent further harm.