We take many things we enjoy in life that we take for granted: our health, good food, meaningful relationships with friends and family, and even the simple pleasures we feel doing everyday tasks. What if there is something that keeps you from feeling that happiness even when you should?
Controlled substances can create a feeling of euphoria for a short time, but the long-term cost can leave you with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety. These substances affect the brain by interfering with how neurotransmitters, small molecules in the brain, carry signals that tell your brain how to function. They change how your brain receives these signals, releasing chemicals like dopamine that give you a brief rush of pleasure.
Tolerance, Dopamine, and Brain Function
The brain can quickly become numb to the pleasurable chemicals that are amplified by substances. In order to feel happiness, your brain will need more and more. Without them, you may begin to feel irritable or distressed, with feelings of anxiety. Withdrawal causes behavioral changes that can affect relationships with other people and leave individuals feeling isolated and alone.
The same dopamine produced in the brain by controlled substances is also produced when you eat foods you like, listen to your preferred music, or even when you are having a good time with your friends. However, in normal circumstances, the amount of dopamine your brain naturally produces is much smaller than the amount released by substance use. We call this tolerance.
Tolerance occurs when you need larger and larger amounts of a substance to feel pleasure from it. This tolerance affects your ability to feel joy from those everyday things that make you happy.
Physical Health and Substance Use
Substances can also have damaging effects on many systems in the body. Medical professionals can determine the extent of substance use damage through various diagnostic tools. Chest X-rays can show damage to the heart and lungs, while blood tests and other imaging tests can show damage that the X-ray cannot. Early detection and treatment may result in the best outcome.
Some substances can damage nerve cells, lead to long-term consequences for the user’s mobility, and even affect cognitive function, resulting in permanent brain damage. Damage to the brain from substance use can further exacerbate mental health disorders as cognitive function deteriorates.
Heart, Lung, and Dental Problems
Beyond exacerbating mental health disorders, the detrimental effects of substance use can wreak havoc on the heart and lungs, increase the risk of developing cancer, and even cause dental problems such as tooth decay.
Substance use involving the inhalation of smoke is well-known to cause lung damage. Prolonged use of such substances, including tobacco, has been linked to lung diseases such as bronchitis or emphysema, damage that increases the likelihood of dangerous viral infections such as pneumonia and the development of cancer.
Using substances, especially intravenous drug use, can increase the chance of infection from communicable diseases. Those who use substances have a higher than average risk of contracting a variety of diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C. Sharing needles and the uninhibited sexual behaviors of inebriation put those who use substances more at risk.
Exposure to Viruses and Bacteria
Substance use can also expose the body to external pathogens such as viruses and bacteria that have detrimental effects on your health. Some of these bacteria can cause damage to the heart and general cardiovascular system. In some cases, they can even affect your skin and body tissues and lead to serious infections.
The Effect of Substances on Others
The physical effects of substance use are not limited to the individual using substances. Using controlled substances can affect everyone around you and can lead to inadvertent injury and even death.
Using Substances While Pregnant
The use of controlled substances by pregnant women can cause premature delivery. Damage to the fetus in utero due to substance use can cause long-term effects such as developmental and behavioral problems.
Operating a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence
Those who use substances who operate motor vehicles while intoxicated have an increased likelihood of fatalities and put others at risk. In 2016, as many as 12 million people reported driving under the influence. Drivers who engage in such behaviors do not have the same reaction time and can put both drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Self-Care, Treatment, and the Recovery Process
There are many treatments available today that aid in the process of recovery from substance use. Even though you may experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of using controlled substances, counseling, self-care techniques, and some medical interventions can help you get back to enjoying life’s simple pleasures again.
Substance use affects the mind and the body, so treatment plans must address all aspects of the whole person. When professionals develop a treatment plan, they will look at the health and wellness of the individual seeking treatment and their mental health needs while taking careful account of their personal, legal, and family circumstances.
Each person is different, so each treatment plan is different and requires various tools to achieve success. Understanding why substance use affects you can be the key to unlocking your recovery potential. From there, a holistic treatment plan that fits you can be implemented, and your road to recovery can begin.
Substance use affects every part of your life, but none more than your physical self. Your mind and body are important, and the damage substance use causes them is real. Recovering from the damage of substance use can be a struggle, but it is not one you have to make alone. No matter what brings you to treatment and seeking recovery, you matter; your journey is one you can see through. One of the most important choices you can make now is the choice to heal. The team of professionals at SoCal Mental Health are here to provide you with all of your treatment needs and to walk with you as you make the journey towards recovery. You can get there. We can help. If you or someone you know is experiencing the effects of substance use on physical and mental health, call SoCal Mental Health at (949) 502-2041.