What are the negative effects of addictive substances? (Article series 2 of 7)

May 2, 2024
What are the negative effects of addictive substances? (Article series 2 of 7)

Note:  This is the second in a series of articles on prevention.


Addictive substances might offer a temporary escape, but the harsh reality is that they are causing serious damage. While these addictive substances present themselves as quick fixes for life's challenges they take a devastating toll on individuals, families and communities alike (Lander et al, 2013). We will be diving in to explore the physical, psychological and social consequences that accompany the temporary highs from addictive substances.



Substance abuse can impact almost every organ in the human body. The consequences vary depending on the substance abused, as well as the frequency and quantity consumed. In the body, consequences can include a weakened immune system which leads to an increased risk of illness and infection. Substance abuse also affects the heart and circulatory system, raising heart rate and blood pressure, constricting blood vessels, and elevating the risk of heart rhythm disturbances, heart attack, and stroke (Geoffrion & Generes, 2024). Here's how different substances can harm the body:

Alcohol - Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, hepatitis. It weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections and illnesses. It also negatively affects the cardiovascular system by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and the risk of heart rhythm disturbances, heart attacks, and strokes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2024).

Cocaine - Heart disease, kidney issues, strokes, seizure, coma, gastrointestinal issues are all associated with cocaine abuse. It exerts profound stress on the cardiovascular system, constricting blood vessels and escalating the risk of heart-related complications (Lautieri, 2023).

Marijuana - Prolonged marijuana use, partially when initiated at a young age, can impact brain health, potentially leading to a loss of IQ and impaired functions and memory (SAMHSA, 2016) .

Tobacco - Tobacco abuse results in lung damage, respiratory depression, chronic bronchitis. Inhaling tobacco smoke damages the lungs and impairs their normal function, often leading to serious respiratory problems and long-term health issues(Health Canada, 2023).

Digestive problems, kidney damage, weakened immune response, hormonal imbalances, muscle weakness, and skin issues are among the other potential consequences with other substances not mentioned above (NIDA, 2022). Substance abuse not only poses immediate risks but also long-term consequences that can significantly impact an individuals health and quality of life. With potent drugs the risk of negative physical effects is huge and with each dose it is a life or death risk  (NIDA, 2022).



One of the most significant shifts experienced by individuals dealing with substance abuse is the functioning of the brain's reward centre. Substances hijack the dopamine pathway altering the brain chemistry and prioritising substance use over other aspects of life. This leads to an increased preoccupation with acquiring and consuming additive substances, resulting in detrimental effects on the individual's mental state (SAMHSA, 2016). Not everyone will experience mental illness but many do(Melkam et al., 2024). Anxiety and depression are two mental illnesses associated with addiction. Individuals are likely to turn to addictive substances to relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression however after prolonged use the brain and body mechanisms that relieve the symptoms of anxiety become damaged and anxiety intensifies when the effect of the addictive substances wear off (Melkam et al., 2024). This can lead to the symptoms getting in the way of the individual's daily life and their ability to function. Loss of interest, passions and activities can result in depression and can lead to feelings of no joy in the world (NIDA, 2022). The constant chase for the next high becomes all-consuming, leaving little room for genuine joy or fulfilment (Hurley et al., 2013).



Socially the repercussions of addiction go farther than just the individual affecting relationships and communities. Friends and families are forced to bear the emotional, and psychological burdens and watch addiction take over their loved ones' lives (Lander et al, 2013). Addiction can threaten the loving, trusting relationships that sustain a healthy family. Shame and embarrassment can lead to social isolation and avoidance which can lead to a destructive cycle of triggers (Lander et al., 2013). Substance abuse can cause users to become paranoid, leading them to think that their friends are against them, making them aggressive and violent. It can also lead to broader societal effects and have effects on criminal activity, homelessness and financial issues(Lander et al., 2013).



All addictive substances have powerful effects on the brain and it motivates people to continue to use these substances making it hard for them to shake off addiction. While supporting individuals battling addiction is vital, true prevention lies in targeting adolescents. The next blog post explores why adolescence is a pivotal stage for addiction prevention.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024, February 29). Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. learn the facts. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm 

Geoffrion, L. (2024, February 7). Substance Abuse & Heart Damage, disease, complications. American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/substance-abuse-heart-disease

Health Canada (2023, March 17). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/tobacco/legislation/tobacco-product-labelling/smoking-lung-cancer.html 

Hurley, L. L., Taylor, R. E., & Tizabi, Y. (2012). Positive and negative effects of alcohol and nicotine and their interactions: a mechanistic review. Neurotoxicity Research, 21(1), 57–69. https://doi-org.redeemer.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s12640-011-9275-6

Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of Substance Use Disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social work in public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725219/#:~:text=Each%20family%20and%20each%20family,perpetrated%20against%20him%20or%20her

Lautieri, A. (Ed.). (2023, September 11). Physical effects of drug abuse. Greenhouse Treatment Center. https://greenhousetreatment.com/drug-addiction/physical-effects/

Melkam, M., Demilew, D., Kassew, T., Fanta, B., Yitayih, S., Alemu, K., Muhammed, Y., Getnet, B., Abetu, E., Tarekeg, G. E., Oumer, M., & Nenko, G. (2024). Anxiety disorders among youth with substance use and associated factors in Northwest Ethiopia: A community-based study. PLoS ONE, 19(3), 1–14. https://doi-org.redeemer.idm.oclc.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0300927

NIDA. (2022, March 22). Addiction and health. National Institutes of Health. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/addiction-health#:~:text=People%20with%20addiction%20often%20have,drug%20use%20throughout%20the%20body

NIDA. (2019, December 24). Cannabis (marijuana) Drugfacts. National Institutes of Health. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cannabis-marijuana 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2016, November). The Neurobiology of Substance Use, misuse, and addiction. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849/

Winters, D. E., Massey, S. H., & Sakai, J. T. (2024). Adolescent Substance Use Outcomes in Response to Social Consequences of Use: The Role of Empathy. Journal of Drug Issues, 54(2), 202–217. https://doi-org.redeemer.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/00220426231159303


Special thanks to the students of Redeemer University, Ancaster, Ontario for their assistance in preparing these articles.