Drug Abuse

4 Apr 2021 admin


Drug abuse or substance abuse is defined as the misuse or excessive use of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders fourth edition (DMS-4), drug abuse is “a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” Drug abuse is not only about using illegal drugs. When you use substances for reasons other than what they are meant for, such as to derive pleasure, you are abusing those substances. Drug abuse is a global problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 269 million people have used illicit drugs in the past year, with 35 million reportedly suffering from drug use disorders. According to another survey, almost half of Canadians admitted to having used an illicit drug at some point, with cannabis being the most widely used illicit drug. When most people start abusing drugs, they do so for the feeling of pleasure it gives them, not thinking much about possible side effects. But drug abuse or misuse has both physiological and psychological effects, especially when used over time, resulting in addiction. Substance abuse doesn’t always result in dependency; however, it is a strong precursor.

Drug abuse

The effects of drug abuse are mostly dependent on the type of drug used, duration of abuse, and the person’s health history. Short-term effects are recorded shortly after use, while long-term effects are usually a result of chronic use. Commonly abused or misused drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids (Morphine, Fentanyl, Codeine, Hydrocodone, etc.)
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Rophypnol, etc.) Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens (dextromethorphan (DXM), Ketamine, LSD, etc.)


When people initially use illicit drugs, they use them to derive pleasure. However, this pleasure is accompanied by harmful short-term effects. Depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines are also referred to as “downers” and are used to trigger a relaxed, euphoric feeling. Their short term effects include:

  • Decreased concentration
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

Stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine are also referred to as “uppers” and used to increase alertness and energy temporarily. Short term effects of stimulants include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Increased appetite
  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • depression

Hallucinogens such as Ketamine, LSD, and Cannabis are usually taken to distort reality and induce hallucinations. Short term effects include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Higher or lower body temperature
  • Delusions
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Tremors


Drug abuse affects the brain’s reward center by stimulating the release of feel-good hormones including dopamine, which is also released when you carry out pleasurable activities like eating, sex, and even exercise. The brain is wired to desire pleasure, ultimately increasing your body’s craving for the psychoactive drug. This is the reason dependency and addiction are a possibility with drug abuse. The more you derive pleasure with drug use, the more your brain and body desire that feeling. Other things that give you pleasure, like sex or spending time with family, may no longer interest you. Continuous use of illicit drugs has harmful effects, which include both physiological and psychological effects.


Cardiovascular Effects

Drug abuse has been linked to many heart problems in users. Such cardiovascular issues can range from an irregular heart rate to coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, and heart attack. Drugs that make you susceptible to heart disorders include stimulants, cocaine, and meth.

Respiratory Problems

Smoking or inhalation is one of the most common methods of illicit drug use. Long term use of smoked and inhaled drugs like marijuana and tobacco can result in respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. The use of opioids can also result in a dangerously low breathing rate and heavy snoring.

Liver Problems

Long term drug and alcohol use can lead to liver inflammation, scarring, and liver cirrhosis or failure. Drug abuse is also associated with unhealthy behaviors like sharing needles, which increases a user’s chances of getting infected with diseases like hepatitis that can damage your liver.

Kidney Damage

Chronic abuse of drugs like heroin and ketamine can cause kidney damage and eventual failure due to dehydration, constant fever, and musculoskeletal degradation.

Neurological Effects

Chronic use of hard drugs also has a damaging effect on the brain and other parts of the nervous system. This is because the drug works directly on the brain to produce euphoric effects. Over time, these hard drugs like heroin, ketamine, and cocaine cause brain damage due to seizures or stroke. Sometimes these damages are irreversible.


Chronic use of hard drugs also causes psychological damage, which may be permanent or take a long time to recover from. As a result of the damage done to the brain by these drugs, psychological functions are impaired and could result in symptoms like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression or Grief
  • Panic Disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems with learning and concentration
  • Lethargy and low energy

Sometimes, withdrawal from these drugs may also result in similar psychological symptoms, with some extreme cases resulting in suicidal thoughts.


Drug abuse can also lead to death. Usually, it is a result of a user overdosing on drugs. Other times, users die due to complications resulting from health conditions caused by drug abuse. In a study, opioids were reported to be responsible for the most drug-related deaths in Canada. In 2018, opioids caused 12 deaths per 100,000 population. Opioids commonly resulting in overdose deaths are fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. Other drugs that can lead to death by overdose are benzos, meth, and cocaine.


Drug abuse is dangerous and should be avoided. The physical and psychological effects of drug misuse can often result in permanently life-altering damages. If you are currently struggling with a drug use disorder or you notice you are growing dependent on a drug, you should reach out for help. You can speak with a physician who specializes in drug abuse, misuse, and addiction about a recovery plan that can get you back in control of your life. Book a virtual appointment, here.