The Long-Term Effects of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Addiction can cause short- and long-term effects on the body. Short-term effects may be easier to manage and overlook, but long-term effects may be chronic and irreversible. Those struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol may not realize the harm they are causing their bodies over time until it is too late. Educating the general public and addiction communities about the long-term effects of drug and alcohol abuse can change the way people view addiction. Education can also motivate those struggling with substance use disorder to seek out help.

Addiction Impacts on the Body

Addiction has severe consequences on the body, especially after long-term abuse. Effects may not be evident at first, but extended abuse causes suffering to your body over time. Symptoms range from mild to severe. However, mild symptoms should raise concern as they can develop into severe issues. The entire body is affected by substance use, including every system and organ.

Respiratory System

Inhaling or smoking substances has significant effects on the entire respiratory system. Over time, susceptibility to lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma are heightened. Opioids, primarily, are known to make asthma worse due to the weakening of the breathing.

Cardiovascular System

Damage to the heart is more likely to occur when using drugs that speed up your heart rate. Stimulants are common culprits to heart damage. However, heroin also damages the heart and cardiovascular system if it is injected directly into the bloodstream. Long-term drug use can cause heart failure, heart disease, collapsed veins, and infections in the heart and blood vessels.

Gastrointestinal Tract

Long-term damage to your gastrointestinal tract is a possibility when using drugs over an extended amount of time. Damage can result in chronic acid reflux, constipation and even chronic pain. In severe cases, there is the chance of developing various cancers within the gastrointestinal tract.


The kidneys suffer when using drugs, especially over an extended period. Kidney damage can result in kidney failure, which can be life-threatening. During kidney failure, the body will begin breaking down muscle tissue and increasing in temperature, causing severe dehydration.


The liver is mainly affected by alcohol. Liver damage is exacerbated by mixing drugs and alcohol, specifically heroin or prescription opioids. If liver damage worsens, it can cause liver failure.

Addiction Impacts on the Brain

Addiction rewires the brain’s reward system, classifying it as a chronic disease. Rewiring causes the various cravings and urges that those who use substances may experience. Drugs and alcohol cause dopamine to be released in high quantities, simulating the “high” that many describe when using substances. Substance users experience feelings of euphoria, causing a need to seek more drugs or alcohol. The brain produces less dopamine to balance the high amounts that substances are making. Substance users are then unable to feel minimal quantities of pleasure. Tolerance is built up, and a person must consume more of the addictive substance to feel what the alcohol or drugs originally made them feel. Over time, permanent changes occur in the brain. These changes can be life-changing and damaging. 

Extended Amygdala

Over time, your extended amygdala becomes affected by long-term drug or alcohol abuse. The extended amygdala controls anxiety, uneasiness, and feelings of irritability. Once substance effects fade, the extended amygdala causes cravings to deal with feelings of discomfort. A lack of substances in the body causes these feelings.

Basal Ganglia

The basal ganglia help form habits and routines by rewarding your brain each time you do something that brings you joy or pleasure. Pleasurable actions include eating, having sex, socializing and other activities. The basal ganglia are referred to as the brain’s reward circuit for this reason. This part of the brain can become damaged over time due to constant drug use. Without the drug, it can be difficult to feel pleasure. 

Prefrontal Cortex

Addiction can harm your decision-making skills and rational thinking by altering the prefrontal cortex. Over time, the brain may experience a lack of impulse control when seeking out drugs or alcohol. Teens are especially vulnerable to prefrontal cortex damage because this part of their brain is not fully developed.

Other Long-Term Effects

Those who struggle with substance use are prone to making poor decisions and spending time with people who may do the same. Substandard decision making may lead to legal trouble, too. It can also pose dangers of losing work due to substance abuse, which can end in a financial crisis. Financial concerns may lead to homelessness. Due to the circumstances of their livelihood, those who abuse substances are more likely to face trauma and violence. It’s all a vicious cycle.

Lack of food is a concern with those using substances, as well. Those abusing drugs may not eat food with nutritional value or even eat at all. Several problems can occur due to this, including malnutrition, severe weight loss, and vitamin deficiencies. Specific substances may also lead to a lack of sleep. Sleep loss can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Health problems such as HIV or hepatitis from shared needles can also occur when using drugs. People who are addiction to drugs or alcohol are less likely to make rational decisions and are more likely to engage in these harmful behaviors.


While short-term side effects may be easier to cope with, long-term addiction can lead to various chronic and life-threatening health problems. Whether you have struggled with substance use disorder for a short period of time or have been in the grips of it for decades, Casa Palmera can create a plan that leads you to a happy and sober lifestyle. For more information on the long-term effects of addiction or about our treatment programs, contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.