The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Brain and Body

Any amount of substance misuse can affect the brain and body. Long-term side effects and symptoms can develop after even a single instance of misusing certain substances, and chronic misuse puts people at an even greater risk of negative health outcomes.

Adults who misuse certain substances, including marijuana, are at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, among other conditions. Teenagers who misuse substances are often at a greater risk of experiencing cognitive or psychological changes because their brains are still developing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Research has shown that brain development continues into a person’s 20s.” Substance misuse during that time can cause severe and lasting changes.

The effects of substance misuse are real, but many people remain unaware of the dangers. At A New Hope Recovery, we believe that educating communities about the realities of substance misuse can save lives. 

How Different Substances Affect the Body

Drugs and alcohol can have a devastating effect on the brain and body within a very short period. Extended substance misuse increases the risk of developing a range of health issues. Body systems are interconnected, and when one is damaged, the rest can suffer.

Below are brief descriptions of the effects some substances can have on the human body.


Benzodiazepines are the most commonly misused depressants. Long-term benzodiazepine misuse can cause the following health issues:

  • Cognitive decline 
  • Memory issues 
  • Increased risk of dementia
  • Increased risk of severe accident or injury 

When benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol or other drugs, the combined effects of the substances can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, coma, or death.


Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines can cause severe adverse reactions, including: 

  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Malnutrition
  • Asthma
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction

Common cardiovascular conditions experienced by individuals who misuse stimulants include heart disease and heart failure.


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “25.8 percent of people ages 18 and older . . . reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.” Binge drinking and chronic overdrinking can cause the following:

  • Physical changes to the structure of the brain
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Memory issues
  • Speech impairment
  • Decreased motor function
  • High blood pressure 
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attack 

Alcohol misuse can also influence judgment and increase the risk of life-threatening illness or injury.


Misusing opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, or morphine can lead to many negative health outcomes. For example, opioid misuse can cause:

  • Suppressed immune response
  • Chronic constipation
  • Bone fractures
  • Tooth decay
  • Malnutrition
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Increased risk of heart disease 
  • Neurological changes that make it difficult to stop using opioids

In addition, breathing can slow dangerously due to the effects of opioids, leading to unconsciousness, coma, or death.

Healing From the Effects of Substance Misuse

If someone misuses substances, it is not too late to get help. People can heal from the damaging effects of substance misuse with the help of certified professionals. Yet, even with treatment, some long-term side effects might impact a person’s daily life. A care team can help individuals learn coping skills to help them function despite any lingering effects of substance misuse. No one has to continue suffering. Help is available.

Some people feel uncertain about treatment and might feel ambivalent about getting help. Do not hesitate or wait to get life-saving treatment. Every instance of substance misuse has the potential to cause or worsen permanent health issues. In addition, every time someone misuses substances, it can affect their brain in a way that makes sobriety harder to achieve.

Motivation Is Essential for Long-Term Recovery

Many people know that motivation is essential for long-term recovery. Yet, what can be surprising is that motivation does not have to come from within.

Many families believe the misconception that their loved one needs to “hit rock bottom” before they will open their eyes to the realities of their situation and reach out for help. Individuals do not have to wait for the person they care about to choose change for themselves. Instead, families can supply them with outside motivations through an intervention that will get them into treatment, where a therapist can help them discover and strengthen internal motivations for healing. Successful recovery from SUD is possible even if a loved one enters treatment without feeling a need to change.

Overcoming ambivalence is a normal part of the recovery process for many people, and treatment facilities have therapeutic modalities specifically designed to address these issues. During rehabilitation, the care team will guide loved ones through the process of identifying their own reasons for maintaining sobriety. A therapist can help them focus on achievable recovery goals to keep them moving forward. Families can support their loved ones by getting them the help they need and creating a healing environment that encourages accountability and personal growth.

Many people engage in social overdrinking, illicit drug use, or prescription medication misuse without true consideration of the risk of these activities causing severe injury, illness, or even death. The potential consequences of misusing substances include brain damage, organ failure, and lingering symptoms like memory issues or infertility. The wide range of side effects can affect anyone who regularly misuses substances. Early treatment is the best way to avoid permanent health complications. If someone you love misuses substances, and you want to help them avoid potential health issues, educate yourself about the realities of addiction. You may need to intervene on your loved one’s behalf and begin the healing process for them by getting them into a treatment program. The mental health professionals at A New Hope Recovery can provide you with referrals, family support, and intervention services. To get help today, call us at (407) 501-8490.