Addiction can cause many health problems. Some are obvious, but some are surprising.
Many of the dangers have been drilled into us since elementary school. Don’t drink and drive. Alcohol impairs your judgement, so you’ll make reckless decisions. After a night of partying, your liver hates you and you know it. You get it. You’ve heard it before, from public service announcements and surgeon general’s warnings.
But what might you not know? Addiction works over the body, head to toe, mind to soul. Putting too much of anything in your body is never a very good idea, from cupcakes to coffee to cocaine. Here are some of the sneakier health problems caused by addiction you may not be aware of:
1. Addiction can increase your cancer risk.
It isn’t just smoking cigarettes that causes cancer. Alcohol is classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic to humans. Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor in head, neck, and esophageal cancers. It’s also linked with a variety of other cancers. Other drugs, including steroids and marijuana, are linked to increased cancer risk.
2. Addiction might mess with your medications.
Are you on prescription medications? Time to rethink your drinking habit or other substance use. Alcohol and prescription meds don’t mix. You might lose the efficacy you sought from the prescription meds, or increase it to a point of toxicity. Mixing psychiatric meds with street drugs can create unexpected cocktails, which can result in anything from serotonin syndrome to overdose.
3. Addictions strain your brain.
That confidence boost and social ease you felt with the first drink or drug? Don’t let it fool you. Drugs and alcohol are linked to a ton of brain problems. Everything from the obvious (getting super irritable when you are jonesing) to the less so (processing humor and empathy seems to be impaired in alcoholics). The brain problems drugs cause are so staggering they may be worthy of an entirely different blog post. Name almost any drug, and it comes with a long array of neurological problems after prolonged use. Maybe the most miraculous of all this information is the brain’s mighty ability to recover from quite a bit of damage with abstinence.
4. Addictions thin your bones.
If you’ve been hitting the booze hard, consider chugging some milk instead—your bones might need it. Heavy drinking, especially in your adolescence (when your bones aren’t fully strengthened up yet) can increase your likelihood of osteoporosis later in life. Opioid-induced osteoporosis is also a thing. And if you need more health reasons to quit smoking, cigarettes are a risk factor for osteoporosis and fracture. If you’ve got some healthy bones, hop around on them and celebrate! Then think about reducing your addictive behaviors to keep your bones and the rest of your body happy and healthy.
5. Addictions stress your skin.
No, I’m not talking the faces of meth. We all know meth can cause devastating effects on the skin, from picking to lesions. But alcoholism is associated with a number of skin diseases, and alcohol may be a trigger for psoriasis. Addiction can also cause basic hygiene to suffer, resulting in everything from chapped lips, bags under the eyes, and sallow, dehydrated skin, to acne.
You know the reasons not to drink. You’ve been taught them since you were a kid. You were told not to do drugs. Not to smoke. Some of the reasons are obvious, but can occasionally feel improbable and distant, like liver failure and throat cancer. Some of them are right here with you, like chapped lips or nausea from your antidepressants mixed with booze. But every consequence is snuggled right up next to someone, announcing its arrival and making itself at home.
If you want to give your body and brain a break before things get too bad, or if things are already too bad and you’re looking to make them better, we’re here for you. The body can heal. The brain can regenerate. It can get better from here, starting now.