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Does Drug Use Cause People to Lose Weight?

4 minute read

Rapid weight loss can be a sign of addiction. That’s because certain types of substance abuse can lead to weight loss — either directly or indirectly. For example, effects of cocaine abuse and other substances can produce profound metabolic changes, which can cause weight loss. Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to behavior changes in eating habits, which can affect food intake.

Losing weight because of an addiction can be dangerous, and even deadly. Learn how drugs can lead to weight loss, and why that’s never a good thing.

Why Do Drugs Make You Lose Weight?

Several substances of abuse can impact your weight. They do this by affecting organs or metabolism and by hijacking your brain and changing your priorities. When your main focus is using drugs or drinking, unhealthy eating behaviors can develop like skipping meals or consuming nutrient-deficient foods.

Drugs that can impact weight include:


Weight loss is a common sign of cocaine addiction, methamphetamine addiction, and sometimes abuse of MDMA (Molly, ecstasy). Stimulants like these are often appetite suppressants and can also change the way calories and fat are metabolized. For example, some research shows that cocaine dependency alters the way your body processes and stores fat. Scientists aren’t exactly why this happens, but research shows it does occur. One study found that even though regular cocaine users ate an excessive amount of fatty foods and carbohydrates, they did not have the notable weight gain that typically results from this eating pattern. Once the users quit chronic cocaine use and continued these same eating behaviors, they experienced weight gain. Stimulants can also lead to weight loss by acting on the central nervous system and speeding up brain processes in a way that dulls feelings of hunger.


Alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on your organs. While some people experience weight gain from the high caloric content of alcohol, after continuous abuse, the reverse can happen. One of the ways alcohol causes weight loss is by damaging your organs. The acid from alcohol can harm the lining of the stomach and intestines. This inhibits your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and can lead to chronic diarrhea or vomiting. Alcohol can also overload the liver’s ability to process toxins, which can cause liver inflammation, disease, and failure. The resulting effects of nausea and gastrointestinal problems can lead to weight loss.


Weight loss frequently accompanies opioid addiction. Because of opioid and opiates’ highly addictive nature, drug-seeking-behaviors can completely take over your life. Often everyday practices like eating three meals a day, getting enough sleep, and personal hygiene fall by the wayside. Opiate addiction can harm your organs, which may lead to weight loss in the same ways as alcohol abuse. Gastrointestinal issues can make eating uncomfortable and hinder the absorption of nutrients. Injecting opioids can also lead to disease like Hepatitis, HIV, and other infections and diseases that lead to weight loss.


Even hallucinogens like LSD can cause weight loss. People who abuse hallucinogens can experience nausea and vomiting as side effects, which influence your appetite and calorie and fat intake.

Prescription Pills and Weight Loss

Weight loss can be a sign of prescription drug addiction. Abuse of any type of substance, even prescription medicine can cause weight loss and other damaging effects. Prescription painkillers contain opioids, which can lead to weight loss through organ damage and drug-seeking behaviors. Prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are prescribed for ADHD can suppress the appetite in ways similar to cocaine, meth, and illegal stimulants.

What Are the Dangers of Weight Loss From Drugs?

The only healthy way to lose weight is through eating well and exercising. Medical professionals advise losing no more than one to two pounds a week. Weight loss from alcohol and drug addiction is due to harmful effects of substances on your body and can cause long-term damage. Rapid weight loss can result in conditions like:

  • Electrolyte imbalances, putting you at risk for seizures, cardiac arrest, and death.
  • Gallstones, which can cause pancreatitis and put you at risk for gallbladder cancer.
  • Loss in muscle mass and bone density that can lead to movement issues and increased risk for injury.
  • Thyroid problems, which are linked to issues like heart disease, cognitive issues, and damage to the central nervous system.
  • Malnourishment, putting you at risk for several problems like heart disease, organ damage, poor immune system functioning, and diabetes.

Get Help for Addiction

Without treatment, substance abuse and addiction get worse. If you or a loved one is showing signs of drug and alcohol addiction like continuing to use substances despite negative consequences to your health, it’s time to consider a treatment program.

Footprints to Recovery addiction treatment center offers evidence-based care for substance use disorders. We use approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy that help you manage maladaptive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We also use experiential approaches like EMDR therapy, yoga, and meditation for holistic healing. Footprints offers mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders as clinically appropriate.

Choose from several levels of care:

We also provide comprehensive aftercare planning and a robust alumni program, so you have the resources to help you thrive after treatment. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation.


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