The Effects of Prolonged Drug & Alcohol Abuse on the Skeletal & Nervous System

The Effects of Prolonged Drug & Alcohol Abuse on the Skeletal & Nervous System

The Effects of Prolonged Drug and Alcohol Abuse on the Skeletal and Nervous System

The adult human skeletal system consists of 206 bones, as well as a network of tendons, ligaments and cartilage that connects them.  Our skeletal system includes all of the bones and joints in the body and each is a complex living organism that is made up of cells, protein fibers and minerals.

Why do we need it?

The skeletal system’s main function is to form a solid framework that supports and protects the body’s internal organs and anchors the skeletal muscles. The bones act as a hard shell to protect the internal organs—such as the brain and the heart.   The skeletal’s vital functions also include movement, blood cell production, calcium storage, flexibility at the joints and anchor to the muscles for limb movement, and endocrine regulation — which are needed to survive.

What can drugs do to the skeletal system when using for long periods of time?


Osteoporosis is a prevalent disease, particularly affecting the elderly, resulting in the loss of bone tissue. In osteoporosis, bone loses calcium, becomes thinner and may disappear completely. However, it is common to see osteoporosis affect people at any age if they are using drugs over long periods of time.   Drugs affect bone density due to malnutrition.  Many drug users who are addicted to methamphetamine or stimulants typically go without eating for long periods of time and when they do eat, they are not consuming high quality foods with vitamins and minerals.   When you consume too much alcohol the stomach finds it increasingly difficult to absorb calcium and the necessary minerals it needs to function properly.

Alcohol and drug consumption also inhibit the pancreas’ ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D.  In women, alcohol and drug use decreases estrogen levels. Estrogen is vital for the remodeling of bones and slows down the natural process of bone loss.



Osteomyelitis is a bone infection which has been linked to intravenous drug abuse. In most cases, bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus, a type of staph bacteria, causes osteomyelitis. This infection is commonly associated with the use of dirty needles and contaminated drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine.


TMJ and Tooth Decay

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw.  TMJ and tooth decay are often due to habitual teeth-grinding and clenching as it’s associated to stimulation and stress.  Smoking methamphetamine, MDMA, and crack are also known to affect the saliva glands, reducing protection from tooth decay and erosion.  Some common side effects include trouble eating or swallowing, difficulty talking, and soreness.   In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments.



Arthritis is the inflammation in joints. Inflammation is a process in which the body’s white blood cells and immune proteins help protect us from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. In some diseases, however, the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign substances to fight off.  In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal.  Malnutrition is typically the cause among drug and alcohol users. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is commonly associated with nutrient and mineral deficiencies that reduce the body’s ability to repair itself and fight off disease.


The Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. The brain is a complex, functional unit made up of billions of nerve cells (neurons) that communicate with each other using electrical and chemical signals.  Prolong drug and alcohol use effect the brain stem, limbic system and cerebral cortex.  Symptoms include increase in blood pressure, changes in emotional behavior, impaired thinking and movement, seizures, and stroke.

Daniel Epstein, MS, LMHC is the Program Director at The Berman Center in Atlanta, Georgia and has worked with many patients who experience medical issues as a result from chronic drug use. Daniel says, “It’s common when people are in early recovery after a long time using that they come out of the fog to find themselves dealing with various health problems. Beyond the physical discomfort, there is the stress of feeling overwhelmed with medical issues and having to deal with treatments, appointments and insurances.” Daniel continues, “The solution is simple: organize your schedule, ask for help if you need it, use your social supports and get through it. No need to overthink this one – you just have to make the appointments and show up. These problems won’t go away on their own.”


At Banyan Treatment Center, we offer professional services like inpatient or outpatient treatment which are often necessary for those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.  For help, please call us at 844-248-4686. We can help find treatment resources for your loved one.


Tasha is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Banyan and is a contributor for Banyan's Blog Spot. She brings years of content writing and blogging to the team.