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Substance abuse can seriously impact one’s health and well-being, because the effects of substance abuse on the body can harm its many different parts. The particular effects will depend on the specific drugs used, how these drugs are taken, how much is taken, the person’s health and other factors.

The potential for people who abuse substances and may experience the negative effects of substance abuse on the body are enormous. A government study reported that in 2015, almost 21 million people had a substance use disorders, which represents almost 8 percent of the population aged 12 or older living in the United States.1

Cardiovascular Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body

Researchers report that most drugs can have negative effects on the body’s cardiovascular system.2 The effects range from irregular heart rates to heart attacks. When individuals inject drugs, this can also cause collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood or heart. Drugs that are known to induce cardiovascular problems include cocaine, GHB, heroin, inhalants, ketamine, LSD, marijuana, MDMA, methamphetamine, PCP, prescription stimulants and steroids.

Respiratory Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body

Drug use can cause many different respiratory problems.3 Smoking marijuana can cause bronchitis. Smoking crack cocaine can lead to lung damage and severe respiratory problems. Opioid drugs can cause repressed breathing or air blockage in the lungs or make asthma worse. Other drugs that can lead to respiratory system problems include cocaine, heroin, inhalants, ketamine and PCP.

Neurological Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body

All addictive substances work on the brain’s reward system and pleasure center.4 However, some substances can also damage the brain, which can lead to seizures, strokes and direct toxic effects on brain cells. Drug use may also lead to addiction, which is a brain disorder. Repeated substance use produces changes in brain functions that control stress, decision-making, impulse control, learning and memory. Most drugs can cause adverse neurological effects on the body.

Once these changes occur in the brain, people with an addiction may have a difficult time experiencing pleasure without chemical assistance. These individuals also have issues managing and controlling impulses, as well as difficulty making the choice to stop substance use.

Gastrointestinal Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body

Many drugs can cause adverse gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting. Cocaine use can lead to abdominal pain and tissue decay in the bowels. Opioid abuse is known to cause abdominal pain, acid reflux and severe constipation. Other drugs that can negatively affect the gastrointestinal system include heroin, LSD, MDMA, mescaline and PCP.

Other Health Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body

Besides the effects that various drugs can have on specific areas of the body, drugs produce changes that affect the body’s overall functioning. Dramatic changes in appetite and a rise in body temperature are just two examples of the effects of substance abuse on the body that can lead to a variety of health conditions.

Withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse can also lead to many adverse health effects, such as:

  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Muscle pain
  • Mental health issues
  • Sleeplessness
  • Cold flashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Drugs that have overall adverse health effects include cocaine, heroin, inhalants, MDMA, methamphetamine, prescription sedatives, prescription opioids, prescription stimulants and steroids.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, seek professional help to enter recovery and reclaim your health.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015Rev1/NSDUH-FFR1-2015Rev1/NSDUH-FFR1-2015Rev1/NSDUH-National%20Findings-REVISED-2015.pdf
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/health-consequences-drug-misuse/cardiovascular-effects
  3. https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/drug-use-hurts-bodies
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
The Adverse Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body
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