We inherently know we are damaging our brains and bodies when we use drugs, however we hardly ever stop to think about the specifics. Sometimes it’s the details that capture our attention. I know that smoking can lead to lung cancer, but it wasn’t until I saw my uncle drowning on the fluid in his own lungs during his final week of life that it really hit me so dramatically. Well, the same applies to drugs and alcohol. Perhaps by taking the time to walk through the details, I’ll touch some of you who are now mindlessly indulging in your addiction, but considering recovery.
Ingestion of opioids slows down many of your body’s critical functions. Most importantly, it reduces your ability to breathe and capacity to process oxygen. This leads to cellular death, particularly in your brain. If this continues long enough, it can lead to something called anoxic brain injury. If you survive, it can affect your speech, vision, hearing, motor skills, ability to recognize things or regulate your emotions, and even send you into a vegetative state. All too frequently it leads to death as you suffocate.
Consumption of alcohol irritates the stomach lining and enlarges blood vessels in the esophagus, which can rupture and lead to painful immediate death. You can also fall into positional asphyxia, when a sleeping or unconscious person slumps in such a way that the air is obstructed, or you simply choke on your own vomit. More long term, your liver gets scarred, leading to cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis. It can also inflame the pancreas causing pancreatitis and excruciating pain. Moreover, it significantly increases the likelihood of oral, liver, esophageal and stomach cancer. If you’re lucky, you’ll only end up with memory loss, brain shrinkage and psychosis.
Methamphetamines, cocaine and other similar drugs that fit into the category commonly known as ‘uppers’, have their own drastic affects. They cause your heart to race and enlarge even to the point of bursting. They increase the rate of respiration and impact your blood pressure both to the high and low side, as it increases strain on veins and capillaries during use and knee-jerks in the opposite direction once the drug is out of your system, scrambling your brain in the process. They also lead to anxiety, agitation, depression and engagement in careless behavior that frequently puts your life at risk.
Use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can cause major damage to the mother and baby alike. The mother’s bodily functions and immune system are already under tremendous stress to begin with. The added impact of any kind of foreign substance only further negatively impacts her fragile state of health. Alcohol and drug use also impacts the development of the fetus, leading him or her to be born with mental and/or physical impairment. They are at the very least born with fetal substance syndrome, including experiencing agonizing withdrawal during his/her precious first few days. The psychological effect of that alone can last a lifetime.
When it comes to addiction, we are all aware of the long term harm, but for some reason it doesn’t register quite like it should. We need something to shake us into realization, like passing a horrible car wreck, to trigger our empathy and get us to embrace it on a personal level. While I take no great pleasure in presenting the gory details, I am hopeful that I’ve at least reached a few of you so that you might more seriously consider heading into treatment and beginning your recovery before it’s too late.