While overdose is an immediately known effect of drug and alcohol use, symptoms of overdose aren’t the only danger associated with substance abuse. Prolonged drug and alcohol abuse have been linked to changes in the skeletal system, nervous system, vital organs, and even the brain. The long-term effects of drugs worsen as the drug abuse continues, so the best choice is to fight for sobriety with the help of drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs in South Florida.
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.
Addiction is a disease, and it is one of the most common diseases that affect the skeletal system. There are many effects of prolonged drug use on the skeletal system.
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.
Alcohol consumption, especially excessive alcohol consumption associated with alcoholism, can increase a person’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis as they age. When you consume too much alcohol the stomach finds it increasingly difficult to absorb calcium and the necessary minerals it needs to function properly, resulting in deficiencies of vital components for healthy bones.
Alcohol and drug consumption also inhibits 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. Alcohol isn’t just dangerous to bones, studies are showing an increased link between alcoholism and dementia.
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.
Smoking methamphetamine, MDMA, and crack are also known to affect the saliva glands, reducing protection from tooth decay and erosion. These drugs can cause dental problems like meth mouth, and sobriety is the first step to fixing your teeth after getting sober.
Heavy alcohol consumption is shown to agitate arthritis, especially gout. There is a strong connection between alcohol and joint pain, with heavy alcohol consumption agitating existing rheumatoid arthritis and gout, with beer and wine agitating the inflammation associated with the latter condition.1
While many prescription drugs may affect bone density and lead to issues like osteoporosis, illegal drugs can also affect bone density. As explained above, osteoporosis from drug use is most often linked to malnutrition, but specific drugs have also been linked to a decrease in bone density resulting from that specific drug’s actions within the body. One study found that opiates are linked to an increased risk of vertebral osteopenia, which is a condition in which bones are weakened but not as weakened as with osteoporosis.2 If left unchecked, vertebral osteopenia can progress into osteoporosis.
Cocaine may affect the bones in some users by reducing bone density, which is often a side effect of the drug’s effects on blood cells, appetite, and overall absorption of nutrients. Prolonged cocaine use has been linked to peripheral erythrocytosis,3 a condition in which the body has an excess concentration of red blood cells within the veins and causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, nosebleeds, itching, and increased blood pressure. 4
In addition to bone and blood side effects of cocaine use, cocaine addiction can also exacerbate eating disorders and alter metabolism to a point where addicts cannot retain healthy levels of body fat. 5
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 affect the brain stem, limbic system, and cerebral cortex. Symptoms include an 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 of 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."
Drug abuse isn’t just dangerous to systems within the body. Short-term and long-term drug abuse can also affect the brain in surprising ways. Cocaine addiction has been shown to prematurely age the brain, resulting in premature gray matter loss within the brains of cocaine users. 6 Drugs such as meth are shown to reduce the number of dopamine receptors within the brain, and drug abuse can even alter the structure of neurons in several regions of the brain. This can result in changes in a person’s abilities for decision-making, judgment, learning, and memory.7
Now that you know some details about what drug abuse does to the body, it’s important to get sober.
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.