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Physical Signs of Drug Use

Drugs alter the presence of chemicals in our brains. When we take them, we tend to feel differently than we do when we're sober. But these substances don't just change your mind. They can also alter the rest of your body.

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Some drugs, including cocaine and alcohol, inflict direct damage to the tissues in your body. Others cause different types of damage, depending on how you take them.

Many of the issues that can harm your eyes, ears, nose, throat, teeth, and skin can be reversed when you stop using drugs. But others will persist. And some can shorten your life.

What Substance Use Can Do to Your Eyes

Your eyes are delicate structures that work due to a complex interplay between blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and glands. When one piece of this chain breaks down, the health of the entire eye is at risk.

Researchers say these drugs are associated with eye damage:

  • Alcohol: Heavy drinkers have a higher risk for macular degeneration and cataracts. Some also develop involuntary eye movements.
  • Marijuana: This drug can impact your ability to track items with your eyes as they move across your field of vision. You may also have trouble discriminating between colors, and you may be sensitive to the sun. With long-term use, those problems could be permanent.
  • Cocaine: This drug is toxic to the cornea, and it can cause ulcers. That can happen to people who smoke or snort the drug. It can also change blood vessel structures in the eye and lead to inflammation or bleeding. Those can cause permanent vision loss.
  • Heroin: This drug can cause inflammation in the eye. If you inject it, you can also push germs into your body and your eyes.
  • Methamphetamine: This drug can cause a spike in blood pressure, which can damage your eyes. That could persist even when you get sober. Meth can also cause corneal ulcers, especially if you snort or smoke the drug.

What Are the Effects of Drugs on Your Nose?

Your nose may play a role in your substance abuse. Anything sold as a powder can be snorted, and some people crush pills to snort them. Some drugs cause toxicity when they hit your nose, and the fillers mixed with others can do even more damage.

Cocaine and methamphetamine can harm tissues as they shrink blood vessels. Take them repeatedly, and your nasal passages are starved of both oxygen and nutrition. As cells die, your nose can collapse. You might need surgery to fix the problem.

woman and drug damaged nose

Researchers say snorting anything, no matter what drug type, can lead to:

  • Nasal lining inflammation.
  • Respiratory tract blockage.
  • Lung infection.

When your airways are scarred, you might have long-term problems. Surgery may help, but you may notice the issue every time you breathe in or breathe out.

What Drugs Can Do to Your Throat

You might be aware that some substances harm your throat. You might feel a burning sensation when you swallow them, or you might feel a tickle in your throat after a binge. But the damage some drugs can do is subtle. You may not notice the problem until it’s advanced.

Alcohol is commonly associated with throat problems, and it can burn when it’s swallowed. Each sip leaves a bit of damage behind. While your body may work hard to repair the issue, you may drink at a rate your body can’t keep up with. Your esophagus can tear. Or you might develop head and neck cancers.

Researchers say some drugs loosen muscles at the bottom of your throat. That can allow stomach acids to seep in, and when they do, you can develop heartburn. Let that persist, and it can morph into cancer.

What Substance Abuse Does to Your Teeth

A smoking habit can darken your pearly whites. But abusing drugs can cause serious dental problems too, and they can persist whether you smoke the substance or use another method.

Experts say these common drugs are associated with tooth damage:

  • Cocaine: This drug contains substances that can erode teeth. Cocaine users can also develop mouth sores that eat away jaw bone.
  • Ecstasy: This drug reduces saliva levels, which leads to bacterial growth. Users may grind their teeth, which wears down protective enamel.
  • Heroin: People who abuse this drug tend to grind their teeth together. Heroin users can also develop oral diseases caused by viral infections and fungus.
  • Marijuana: This drug can lead to severe dry mouth, so bacteria colonies can thrive. Smoking marijuana can lead to oral cancer.
  • Methamphetamine: The drug can lead to rapid tooth rotting, as it’s made of very acidic ingredients. Meth users grind their teeth together, which leads to even more problems. Meth can also reduce saliva production, which lets bacteria colonies run wild.

Some forms of tooth damage can be repaired with the help of a dentist. But very worn or harmed teeth may need to be pulled. You’ll have synthetic versions for the rest of your life.

How Drugs Affect Your Skin

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it can suffer due to ongoing drug abuse. That’s especially true if you use a needle to inject drugs. But some forms of skin damage don’t require a needle at all.

People who inject drugs can develop these issues:

  • Track marks: These are caused by repeated needle punctures to deliver drugs.
  • Collapsed veins: Inject too often, and veins can deflate. You’ll see them as darkened stripes under your skin.
  • Ulcers: If your needle pushes germs beneath your skin, you can develop open sores.

Some types of drugs, including methamphetamine, can compel you to pick at your skin. You can pull open sores on your skin very quickly, and you may not even notice it’s happening.

Even drinking may not be safe. Researchers say that long-term drinkers can develop yellow skin, brown skin, or spider veins. They may also have flushed skin and an enhanced risk of diseases like psoriasis.

Your skin heals very quickly, and with the help of an expert, you could get relief from some of these problems. Infections, for example, can be treated with antibiotics. But you may be left with scars as reminders of the damage done.

Is It Time to Seek Help?

Visible changes caused by drug use could prompt you to get addiction care. But this isn’t the only sign that addiction may be an issue for you.

You could need addiction help if:

  • You’ve tried to cut back, but you can’t make your resolution stick.
  • Your family and friends express concern about your drug use.
  • You use even when you don’t want to anymore.
  • You’ve been arrested, lost your license, or faced some other consequence due to substance abuse.
  • You feel unable to function without your drug.

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