Short and Long Term Effects of Drugs

Short and Long Term Effects of Drugs

Addiction, also called substance use disorder, has become a common issue worldwide. More and more people are finding themselves addicted to a substance, which creates changes in their behavior, and negatively impacts their health, relationships, and professional life [1]. Addiction has long been seen as a free will issue, and thus people addicted to various substances were thought to lack the willpower to quit. However, as more research has gone into this field, addiction is now seen as a brain disease, with various changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain that consolidate addictive behavior [2]. Furthermore, many predisposing factors to addiction have been identified, the most important of which being adverse childhood experiences [3]. People who currently suffer from addiction or are recovering from it will have some common findings in their brain scans. However, their unique situation and symptoms will differ based on which specific substances they abuse.

There are many types of drugs. Some derive from natural plants, while others are created synthetically in a lab. New drugs seem to always be coming to the market, making it hard for health and law enforcement professionals to keep track. But in general, drugs can be classified either depending on how they’re consumed or how they affect the central nervous system [4].

A drug can be inhaled, injected, smoked, absorbed through the skin, dissolved under the tongue, and even used as a suppository. If we take a look at how various drugs can affect the central nervous system (CNS), we’ll be able to identify:

  • CNS depressants (like alcohol and other sedatives).
  • CNS stimulants (like cocaine and methamphetamine).
  • Hallucinogens (like LSD and mushrooms).
  • Dissociatives (like ketamine).
  • Narcotic analgesics (like opioids).
  • Inhalants (like paint thinners and glue).
  • Marijuana or cannabis.

It would take a great deal of time to create a guide that discusses the effects of each drug in detail, but we can talk briefly about the impact of some of the most commonly abused substances.



Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that has a depressant effect on the central nervous system. Like other sedatives and depressants, alcohol consumption confers feelings of psychological and physical relaxation; the person loosens up, forgets about their worries and anxieties, and no longer feels tense.

Alcohol, also called liquid courage, can make a person more impulsive and quick to act without thinking ahead of the consequences. In social gatherings, this disinhibition effect is appreciated because it makes the person more easygoing and fun. However, in reality, it’s a dangerous effect responsible for terrible consequences, like vehicle crashes caused by driving under the influence and physical aggression following simple arguments [5]. Alcohol is easy to abuse because it’s accessible, cheap, and more often than not, people have a drinking problem without realizing it. Peer and social pressure also play a role in alcohol abuse. However, the effects and consequences of alcohol abuse will differ depending on their age, health status, and the type and quantity of alcohol they consume. But in general, the harmful use of alcohol continues to be a public health concern, responsible for 3 million deaths worldwide in 2016, according to the World Health Organization [6].

In the long term, alcohol consumption is linked to many serious health concerns [7]:

  • Liver damage, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.
  • Digestive and oral cancers.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Neurological complications like alcoholic neuropathy and encephalopathy.
  • Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
  • Anemia.
  • Depression and other mental health issues.
  • Shorter lifespan due to high-risk behavior.
  • To conclude, it’s interesting to note that some populations are more likely to suffer from alcohol dependence and abuse, such as those suffering from depression and bipolar disorder [8].

Opioids are a group of psychoactive substances stemming from the opium poppy. Although they are placed in the same category, opioids are broad and different. They are commonly used in medical settings for their powerful analgesic properties, or they can be abused illicitly.

  • Prescription opioids: like oxycodone, Vicodin, or milder opioids like codeine and tramadol.
  • Synthetic opioids: Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid almost 100 times more potent than morphine.
  • Illicit opioids: mainly heroin.

The short-term effects of opioids include a feeling of euphoria caused by a rapid release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, accompanied by powerful pain-fighting properties, making it easy for people dealing with chronic pain problems to abuse opioids.

In the long term, opioid abuse causes severe withdrawal symptoms that are both physical and psychological and can even be life-threatening. This difficulty in withdrawing from opioids makes them extremely dangerous and more likely to trap the person in the infinite abuse cycle.
Opioids are also dangerous because many people can find themselves addicted to them following a routine prescription for pain by a doctor. If the recent opioid epidemic has taught us anything, it would be to stay away from opioids as much as possible, even if they are medically prescribed [9], not only because of their adverse effects on health but also because of how hard they are to withdraw from.

Furthermore, the rate of opioid-related overdoses is alarming, with fentanyl being the most common cause of drug-related overdose in 2019, according to the CDC [10].

Last but not least, on top of the inherent adverse effects of the substance, other health complications can occur depending on the mode of administration of the drug. Intravenous use of opioids, especially heroin, is responsible for many serious health issues like the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C, and B viruses, and other infections. Opioid addicts are sadly more marginalized socially and more likely to suffer from social, interpersonal, and professional negative consequences. 


Stimulants are another category of widely abused drugs. Stimulants increase the activity of the central nervous system and are widely used to enhance performance and for medical or recreational purposes. There are many types of stimulant drugs: 

  • Cocaine: a powerfully addictive drug derived from the South American Coca plant, also includes crack.
  • Methamphetamine: a highly addictive synthetic drug, also includes crystal meth.
  • Prescription stimulants: mainly used to treat ADHD and concentration deficits.

The short-term effects of stimulants can usually be divided into two stages. First comes the high, during which the person will feel euphoric, highly energized, capable of doing anything, with a heightened sense of self-esteem, an increased ability to socialize, and enhanced mental sharpness and focus. During this state, the body’s metabolism is also higher than usual, which can increase blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. This can prove fatal in people already suffering from cardiovascular problems.

After the high comes the crash, also called a comedown. This state is the mirror opposite of the stimulant high. The person will usually feel high levels of fatigue and exhaustion, frustration, loss of pleasure or motivation, and social isolation.

Long-term adverse effects include dependence, since these drugs are highly addictive, along with withdrawal symptoms as the concentration of the drug decreases in the person’s system. These withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and weight loss.

Other adverse effects are caused by how the drug is used. For instance, snorting cocaine will cause complications like loss of smell and nasal nerves damage. Meth, on the other hand, is known to cause dental problems, resulting in what’s known as meth mouth, which is a consequence of dry mouth caused by methamphetamine abuse, jaw clenching, and overall lousy hygiene habits.
Prescription stimulants are common medications used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, both in adults and children. In recent years, the diagnosis of ADHD and concentration disorders has gone through the roof, which has made prescription stimulants widely prescribed [11]. This could be dangerous because it means that not only are these drugs possibly overly prescribed, but they are also more readily accessible for people who abuse them.
Cannabis, also called marijuana, is the most commonly consumed illicit drug worldwide [12]. The number of people using marijuana internationally only keeps growing, making cannabis abuse a public health concern.
The effects of marijuana on the body and brain are deeply intriguing. On the one hand, marijuana use is linked to various adverse health effects. And on the other hand, the cannabis industry has blown up in the last decade, advertising various tinctures, ointments, and other cannabis-based products as natural cure-alls.
To understand more about cannabis, we have to take a closer look at its bioactive compounds, which include THC, CBD, and CBN [13]. These compounds will interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, generating different effects.
THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main compound found in cannabis. It is responsible for many adverse health effects, such as dependence on cannabis, a variety of psychiatric disorders, memory impairment, drowsiness, and loss of motor coordination, to name a few. However, THC has also shown promising pain, anxiety, and nausea-fighting properties.

CBD, on the other hand, also known as cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive, non-addictive compound found in cannabis. It has been shown to treat pain, seizures, and anxiety problems. More research is needed to understand more about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system so that someday we might enjoy all the health benefits of cannabis without any adverse effects. But for the time being, caution is highly advised because aside from all the adverse effects previously mentioned, cannabis use is also heavily linked to the development of heavy psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia [16].



Category: Pocket Rehab
Tags: substance use disorder, addiction, side effects, drugs, stimulants, opiates, marijuana, THC, CBD, short term effects, long term effects