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Decoding The Physical and Psychological Effects of Substance Use Disorders

In this article, we discuss the effects of substance use disorders on physical and mental health, and the benefits of seeking professional care.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex mental health condition. It is characterized by an uncontrolled use of a substance(s) despite harmful consequences. People with an SUD fixate on using certain substances, like alcohol. It often becomes the center of their lives.1

Effects of Substance Use Disorders

What Constitutes an SUD?

Substance use disorders are common conditions. Recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services reveals that 16.5% of individuals aged 12 and above had a substance use disorder.
The criteria for a diagnosis of SUD include:2
  • A craving or strong urge to use the substance
  • Desire or failed attempts to cut down or control substance use
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from substance use
  • Using more of the substance than was intended
  • Substance use causes failure to complete major tasks at work, school, or home 
  • Social or leisure activities are given up or cut back because of substance use
  • The substance is used in risky settings such as driving under the influence
  • Continued use despite knowing the substance is causing problems 
  • Needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or cutting back on the substance
To diagnose a substance use disorder, two or more of these criteria must be present in a 12-month period. The severity of the disorder can vary from mild to severe. Despite their significance, the effects of substance use disorders can be treated.

What are the Cognitive Effects of Substance Use Disorders?

Substance use disorders can significantly impact an individual’s cognitive and executive functioning. This in turn affects decision-making, impulse control, and long-term planning.

Cognitive Functioning

Abusing substances can have many negative effects on cognitive functioning. The effect of substance use disorders on the brain can impair short-term and long-term memory. This affects the ability to learn new information or recall past events.3
Substance use disorders can also lead to difficulties in sustaining attention and concentration. This makes it hard to focus on tasks or follow through with plans. Substance use can hinder the ability to process and retain new information, thus affecting learning.

Executive Functioning

Individuals who experience executive functioning effects of substance use disorders often struggle with making decisions. They have difficulty assessing the long-term consequences of their actions.4
Being unable to assess consequences can hinder impulse control and cause people to engage in risky behaviors. Substance use disorders can affect executive functioning. This makes it harder to recognize and solve problems.

Long-Term Planning

The effects of substance use disorder can result in a compromised ability to plan for the future. An SUD can lead to a focus on short-term rewards and gratification. Thus, many individuals neglect long-term goals and planning.
The implications of these impacts affect not only the individual with the SUD but also their social network and society. Treating substance use disorders is not only about stopping substance use, but also addressing its cognitive effects.

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Physical Health

Substance misuse can have profound effects on physical health. Substance use disorders can affect the body’s organs, metabolism, and immunity. People with substance use disorders often have medical issues resulting from use.5
Here are some of the effects of substance use disorders on physical health:

An Overview of the Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Organ Systems

Stimulants can increase heart rate and blood pressure. This can lead to increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and chronic hypertension. Research shows that people with an SUD were 2.7 times more likely to have cardiovascular disease than people without an SUD.6
Smoking substances can also have an impact on respiratory systems. Smoking substances can cause:7
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Worsen asthma symptoms
  • Smoking opioids can make it harder to breathe and increase the chance of pneumonia and respiratory failure.
The effects of substance use disorder, such as alcohol, can lead to kidney and liver damage. This can include fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. It can also cause a range of gastrointestinal issues from acid reflux and ulcers to pancreatitis.

Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Metabolism

Substance misuse can lead to poor nutrition and deficiencies in essential nutrients. This affects general metabolic health. The effects of substance use disorders on metabolism often result in weight fluctuations and can lead to diseases like diabetes.

Effects on Immune System

Chronic substance misuse can weaken the immune system. This can make the body more susceptible to infections. Using IV drugs weakens the immune system and raises the risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne infections.8
Chronic health conditions arising from substance misuse can significantly reduce life expectancy. They can also decrease an individual’s quality of life by leading to chronic pain or disability. Addressing these health effects of substance use disorders is crucial for effective treatment.

What are the Economic and Societal Effects of Substance Use Disorders?

Substance use disorders impose large economic and societal costs. They affect not only the individuals with substance use disorders but also their communities and the broader society. These costs manifest in various ways.
SUD contributes to:
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lost productivity
  • Higher rates of accidents and injuries at work
  • Greater turnover
Individuals with an SUD often face challenges in securing and maintaining employment. This can lead to long-term economic disadvantage.
Chronic health issues related to substance misuse add ongoing costs to the healthcare system. This includes costs for hospitalization, emergency care, rehabilitative services, and mental health treatment.9

Societal Effects of Substance Use Disorders

Substance use can increase the involvement in the criminal justice system. There is a high correlation between substance misuse and criminal behavior. This leads to increased policing, legal proceedings, and incarceration costs.10
Substance use disorders also often lead to a greater need for social welfare programs, including:
  • Housing support
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Child protective services
Families may face financial strain due to lost income or the need to support a family member with an SUD. Communities bear the cost of extra social services and healthcare provision. Addressing these costs requires a comprehensive approach.

Implications of Substance Use Disorders on Relationships

Substance misuse impacts relationships and family dynamics. The effects of substance use disorders create strain on interpersonal relationships.
Distrust is a major concern in families dealing with an SUD. Addictive behaviors often involve secrecy and deception. Keeping substance use a secret can cause distrust between the person struggling and their family.

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Children in a Family System

Children in these families are particularly affected. They are at a higher risk for emotional and behavioral problems. If a parent has a substance use disorder, older children may have to take on responsibilities that are not suitable for their age.11

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Adults in a Family System

Interpersonal conflicts might escalate as an effect of substance use disorders. They can lead to increased arguments, verbal abuse, and even physical violence within the family.
Marriages and partnerships are especially vulnerable to the stresses caused by substance misuse. Individuals often withdraw from their social networks due to stigma or to hide the problem.

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders and Public Health Crises

The effects of substance use disorders often overlap with other public health crises. These intersections include the opioid epidemic, infectious disease outbreaks, and mental health challenges. Understanding and addressing these intersections is crucial for effective public health responses.

Intersection with the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is a particular aspect of the wider substance use disorder crisis. The dependence on opioids, such as painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl, drives this epidemic. This epidemic has escalated the prevalence of SUD.
To combat this issue, strategies have been developed focusing on several key areas:
  • Improving prescription practices to prevent misuse
  • Expanding access to treatment for opioid addiction through approaches like medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Implementing harm reduction strategies including the distribution of naloxone to reverse overdoses
  • Heightening public education about the risks associated with opioid use

Effects of Substance Use Disorders with Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Intravenous drug use is a common behavior in substance use disorders. This behavior heightens the risk of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. This is because of shared needles and unsafe injection practices that contribute to the spread of these diseases.
In response, public health strategies have been implemented, including:
  • Needle exchange programs
  • Safe injection facilities
  • Integrated treatment programs that address both SUDs and infectious diseases
Regular screening for infectious diseases is important for people affected by addiction. Public health efforts can better combat substance use disorders and related challenges.

How Do Substance Use Disorders Influence the Risk of Traumatic Injuries and Accidents?

The effects of substance use disorders can increase the risk of injuries, accidents, and ER visits. When people use substances, their judgment and coordination are often impaired. This makes them more prone to accidents and injuries.
Research on emergency room visits found that 11.1% of adult patients had a substance use disorder. For instance, alcohol and certain drugs can impair driving ability. This leads to a higher incidence of traffic accidents, which are a common cause of emergency room visits.12

What Preventative Measures Are Taken?

To reduce these risks, a variety of preventive measures are implemented. Some campaigns focus on the dangers of driving under the influence. Others promote drug-free work environments.
Healthcare providers also often screen for substance use in primary care settings. These screenings offer early intervention and referral to treatment services. Schools and community programs focus on youth education. The aim is to prevent substance misuse from an early age.
The goal of these measures is to reduce immediate risks from SUD-related injuries. They also address the underlying issues that contribute to substance misuse.

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders on Comorbid Mental Health Conditions

Having both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition is very common. About 38% of individuals with a substance use disorder also experience a mental illness. The way these conditions interact is important for how they affect treatment and recovery.13

The Effects of Mental Health on Substance Use Disorders

Mental health conditions can worsen the symptoms and severity of an SUD. For example, individuals with depression or anxiety might use substances as self-medication. This can lead to increased dependency and worsening mental health symptoms.

At the same time, substance use can increase the symptoms of mental health disorders, creating a challenging cycle.

Diagnosing and Treating These Disorders

Diagnosing and treating these conditions can be complex. This is because symptoms of substance use often mimic or obscure those of mental health disorders. Effective treatment for dual diagnosis often involves a combination of medication, therapy, and support services.
Treatment for dual diagnosis often needs to be longer and more intensive. It may also require a higher level of support in the early recovery stages. The risk of relapse is higher in this case, as mental health issues can trigger substance use, and vice versa.
This makes ongoing management of mental health a key aspect of preventing relapse.

The Effects of Substance Use Disorders on The Criminal Justice System

Substance use disorders are a significant factor in criminal justice system involvement. This is often due to behaviors associated with getting and using substances.
Individuals with an SUD might engage in illegal activities such as possession, use, or distribution of controlled substances. They might also commit crimes to get substances or money, like theft or prostitution.
It is estimated that 58% of those in prison and 63% of those in jail meet criteria for a substance use disorder.14

The Criminal Justice System’s Approach to Substance Use

Traditionally, the criminal justice system has focused on punishment and incarceration. This approach often fails to address the underlying causes of addiction.
In response, options other than imprisonment have grown in popularity. There are diversion programs that focus on the reasons behind substance-related crimes.
These alternatives include Drug Courts. These are specialized programs targeting non-violent offenders with substance abuse disorders. They combine judicial supervision with community-based treatment services to support rehabilitation and recovery.

Addressing Problematic Substance Use with Mental Health Care

Some jurisdictions offer treatment programs as an alternative to jail. The main goal is to treat addiction to reduce repeat offenses, which could result in fewer charges or avoiding jail.
Community-Based Rehabilitation Services aim to reintegrate individuals into society with support like:
  • Counseling
  • Job training
  • Housing support

What Treatment Options Are Available?

There are a variety of treatment programs available for substance use disorders. Each program is created to address different aspects of substance use and its effects.
The choice of treatment often depends on:
  • The individual’s specific needs
  • The substances used
  • The severity of the disorder
Key types of treatment programs include:

Detox Programs

Detox programs focus on safely removing the substance from the body. Detox often occurs under medical supervision. For many people, especially those using substances like opioids or alcohol, this is the first step in treatment.

Medical supervision is important to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications.

Inpatient Rehab Programs

Residential programs provide intensive treatment in a structured environment. Individuals stay at the facility for a period of time. This period is often between 30 to 90 days. During treatment, they get individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. They also get medical care and medication.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

These programs vary in intensity and frequency of treatment sessions. Participants do not stay overnight but attend regular therapy sessions. This can range from once a week to several times a week.
Outpatient programs allow individuals to maintain their daily responsibilities while receiving treatment. Different types of outpatient programs can include:
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP): A PHP is more intensive than traditional outpatient programs. These programs often involve treatment for up to 9 hours each day, 5 to 7 days a week. They can be used instead of inpatient treatment or as an option for people who need more support than regular outpatient care.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): An IOP offers a more intensive treatment experience than standard outpatient care but is less intense than PHP. Treatment is often between 3 to 5 hours per day for up to 5 days a week.
The effectiveness of these programs often depends on the participant. Finding the right treatment involves working together with a healthcare provider.
Effects of Substance Use Disorders

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment with Continuum Outpatient Center

Continuum Outpatient Center is a premier outpatient program in San Antonio, Texas. We offer IOP and PHP for substance use and mental health disorders. To ensure accessibility is not a barrier to receiving necessary treatment, we offer both in-person and telehealth services.

Our program helps people overcome past traumas, heal relationships, and learn skills to prevent relapse. We help people create a personalized program that addresses their whole self and substance use problems.

What We Offer

Our programs focus on building resilience and teaching skills to avoid relapse. Developing coping skills allows individuals to maintain sobriety after leaving treatment. In this way, we seek to guide you through treatment and sustained recovery after.
Our combination of therapy, education, and holistic approaches like yoga offer you the support needed to build a healthier life. Our caring Continuum Outpatient Center team will teach you the skills for successful recovery.

Contact Us Today

Are you or a loved one struggling with the effects of substance use disorders? Get help today at Continuum Outpatient Center. Regain control of your life and contact us at 210.405.5935 or reach out online. We’re here to help you heal.

Questions About Treatment?
Reach out to our knowledgeable and compassionate Continuum Outpatient Center team for the guidance and support you need for sustainable recovery. We’re here to help you build a foundation for long-term happiness, wellness, and healing.