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

While substance abuse is often accompanied by noticeable physical changes, prolonged drug and alcohol abuse can have devastating effects on your insides as well.

Substance abuse has been linked to changes throughout the skeletal system. While different drugs have different effects and these effects vary from individual to individual, substance abuse can have lasting and permanent effects on the human body. At our PHP rehab in Pompano, we are sharing some of the effects of drugs on the skeletal system that most people are not aware of to try and encourage people to get help for their addictions before it is too late.

How Do Drugs Affect the Skeletal System?

The adult human skeletal system consists of 206 bones, as well as a network of tendons, ligaments, and the cartilage that connects them. 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 skeletal system’s vital functions also include movement, blood cell production, calcium storage, and endocrine regulation.1 All of these functions are vital for survival.

Addiction is a disease, and it is a disease that can affect the skeletal system in several harmful ways. In particular, drugs affect bone in ways that can have a lasting impact. The effects of drug abuse on the skeletal system depend a lot on the drug being abused. Some drugs are more harmful than others. Unfortunately, a person who is addicted to drugs may not realize the harm they are doing to the skeletal system until the damage is already done.

Some of the effects of drug abuse on the skeletal system include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Poor bone density
  • Arthritis

Osteoporosis

One of the more common effects of drug abuse on the bones is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a prevalent disease that involves the loss of bone tissue. In osteoporosis, bone loses calcium, becomes thinner, and may disappear completely. While it is most common in the elderly, osteoporosis can affect people at any age if they are long-term drug users. Many drug users typically go without eating for long periods of time, and when they do eat, they are not following a nutritious diet. Because of these bad habits, many drug addicts struggle with malnutrition, and this can lead to drug-induced osteoporosis. In particular, opioids and meth often lead to osteoporosis. A study on meth users found that 22% met the criteria for osteoporosis compared to 10.3% of the general population.2,3

Osteoporosis is a particularly common effect of drug abuse from meth, opioids, nicotine, antidepressants, and cocaine.

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that has been found in as many as 59% of patients with a history of IV drug use.4 This infection is commonly associated with the use of dirty needles and contaminated drugs.  

Osteomyelitis is a particularly common effect of drug abuse from meth and heroin.

Bone Density

One of the biggest impacts of drug abuse on the skeletal system involves changes in bone density.Several drugs affect bone density, and poor bone density is often the start of more serious issues like osteoporosis. Both prescription drugs and illegal drugs can affect bone density. While decreased bone density is often linked to malnutrition, some specific drugs have also been linked to a decrease in bone density because of the way they interact with the body.  

Lowered bone density is a particularly common effect of drug abuse from meth, nicotine, cocaine, antidepressants, and opioids.

Arthritis

One of the biggest effects of drug abuse on joints is arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation in joints that comes in several different forms, including osteoarthritis and rheumatic conditions relating to gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.5 The presence of an early substance use disorder can often double the chances that arthritis will develop.6

Arthritis is a particularly common effect of drug abuse from meth and prescription medications. It may also lead to misuse and addiction to prescription painkillers. Opioid addiction treatment could help the addict quit.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Skeletal System?

While illicit and prescription drugs affect the skeletal system in various ways, alcohol affects the skeletal system as well. Alcohol consumption, especially excessive alcohol consumption associated with alcoholism, can lead to health problems with bones and joints.

The effects of alcohol abuse on bones and the skeletal system include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor bone density
  • Problems with calcium & vitamin D
  • Worsened Arthritis

Osteoporosis & Poor Bone Density

Just like some abused drugs, alcohol abuse can lead to osteoporosis. Although some research suggests that moderate drinking may be connected to a favorable effect on bone density and a decreased risk of osteoporosis, heavy drinking is associated with lowered bone density and increased risk of osteoporosis.7

Problems with Calcium & Vitamin D

A precursor to osteoporosis, alcohol has also been found to interfere with vitamin D production that is needed for calcium absorption. The result is that the body often has lower levels of calcium than it should, and the bones may suffer.8

Arthritis

Along with the damage to bones, the effects of alcohol on the skeletal system include joint problems. While moderate drinking may actually reduce some inflammation, excessive alcohol and joint pain may be connected. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause more inflammation that may agitate rheumatoid arthritis and gout.9 Especially for those who already struggle with joint pain and arthritis, alcohol may make matters worse, but research on the topic still needs to be done.

The best way to keep these problems from happening to you is to get alcohol abuse treatment sooner rather than later.

The Effects of Drug Abuse on the Central Nervous System

While the effects of drug abuse on the skeletal system can be detrimental to a person’s health, the damage doesn’t stop there. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, and prolonged drug and alcohol use can negatively impact them both. These effects of drug abuse on the central nervous system can be long-lasting and sometimes permanent.

Drug Abuse and the Brain

The brain is a complex system made up of billions of nerve cells called neurons that communicate with each other using electrical and chemical signals. While substance abuse can lead to immediate chemical changes that result in a variety of desired effects for the user, there is a lot of damage going on as well. The effects of long-term drug use on the brain can lead to serious conditions that are sometimes irreversible.  

One of the biggest effects of drug abuse on the brain is addiction. With continued use, the brain rewires itself and actually becomes dependent on the substance that is being abused. This neural change is why it is so hard to quit without professional help like our substance abuse treatment center in Pompano. Cocaine addiction has also been shown to prematurely age the brain, as cocaine addicts lose twice the brain volume each year compared to non-drug users.10 Drugs such as meth are shown to reduce the number of dopamine receptors within the brain and can even alter the structure of neurons in several regions of the brain that can hurt a person’s decision-making, judgment, learning, and memory skills.11

The Effects of Drug Abuse on the Spine & Spinal Cord

Along with damaging the skeletal system and the brain, there can also be several negative effects of drugs on the spine and spinal cord. Frequent drug use is often associated with bad posture, especially in the head and neck.12 One possible reason for this is that drug abuse can weaken the muscles and bone in and around the spine. While bad posture may seem more visually unappealing than dangerous, it can lead to some long-term health consequences. Along with bad posture, the effects of drug abuse on the spine and spinal cord can include dangerous spinal infections in IV drug users.13

Treating the Effects of Drug Abuse on the Body and Mind

Many people are not aware of how serious these problems can be before it is too late. Instead of letting the effects of drug abuse on the skeletal and central nervous system destroy your body, quit now.

At Banyan Pompano, we want to help. All of our patients get a full clinical assessment before treatment begins so that we can address all of their physical and mental issues in their treatment plan.


If you or a loved one is ready to start the road to addiction recovery, call us today at 954-787-2569.

Sources:

  1. Live Science – The Human Skeletal System
  2. NCBI – Frequency of osteoporosis in 46 men with methamphetamine abuse hospitalized in a National Hospital.
  3. NCBI – The Recent Prevalence of Osteoporosis and Low Bone Mass in the United States Based on Bone Mineral Density at the Femoral Neck or Lumbar Spine
  4. NCBI – Microbiology of Bone and Joint Infections in Injecting Drug Abusers
  5. Medical News Today – What are the causes and types of arthritis?
  6. NCBI- Substance Misuse and Substance use Disorders: Why do they Matter in Healthcare?
  7. American Journal of Epidemiology – Effect of Alcohol Intake on Bone Mineral Density in Elderly Women
  8. NIH – What People Recovering From Alcoholism Need To Know About Osteoporosis
  9. Medical News Today – How does alcohol affect rheumatoid arthritis?
  10. Live Science – Cocaine Eats Up Brain Twice as Fast as Normal Aging
  11. Learn Genetics – Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time
  12. NCBI – The Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Pain and Forward Head Posture among Heroin Users during their Withdrawal with Methadone
  13. NCBI – Spinal infection in intravenous drug abusers
Alyssa
Alyssa
Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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