Health Consequences of Drug Misuse

Drug use can have a wide range of short- and long-term, direct and indirect effects. These effects often depend on the specific drug or drugs used, how they are taken, how much is taken, the person's health, and other factors. Short-term effects can range from changes in appetite, wakefulness, heart rate, blood pressure, and/or mood to heart attack, stroke, psychosis, overdose, and even death. These health effects may occur after just one use.

Longer-term effects can include heart or lung disease, cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and others. Long-term drug use can also lead to addiction. Drug addiction is a brain disorder. Not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted, but for some, drug use can change how certain brain circuits work. These brain changes interfere with how people experience normal pleasures in life such as food and sex, their ability to control their stress level, their decision-making, their ability to learn and remember, etc. These changes make it much more difficult for someone to stop taking the drug even when it’s having negative effects on their life and they want to quit.

Drug use can also have indirect effects on both the people who are taking drugs and on those around them. This can include affecting a person’s nutrition; sleep; decision-making and impulsivity; and risk for trauma, violence, injury, and communicable diseases. Drug use can also affect babies born to women who use drugs while pregnant. Broader negative outcomes may be seen in education level, employment, housing, relationships, and criminal justice involvement.

Mental Health

Chronic use of some drugs can lead to both short- and long-term changes in the brain, which can lead to mental health issues including paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and other problems. 

Many people who are addicted to drugs are also diagnosed with other mental disorders and vice versa. Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, with the reverse also true. In 2015, an estimated 43.4 million (17.9 percent) adults ages 18 and older experienced some form of mental illness (other than a developmental or substance use disorder). Of these, 8.1 million had both a substance use disorder and another mental illness.1 Although substance use disorders commonly occur with other mental illnesses, it’s often unclear whether one helped cause the other or if common underlying risk factors contribute to both disorders.

Drugs that can cause mental health problems:

  • Cocaine
  • Inhalants
  • Ketamine
  • Kratom
  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA
  • Methamphetamine
  • PCP
  • Prescription stimulants
  • Steroids (appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs)

Reference: National Institue on Drug Abuse

Last updated May 12, 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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