How can using drugs and alcohol permanently damage my health

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People who use alcohol and drugs a lot get sick more often and more severely than others. They are more likely to have:

  • poor nutrition, which causes more sickness.
  • cancer, and problems of the heart, liver, stomach, skin, lungs and urine system, and sometimes permanent damage.
  • brain damage or seizures (“fits”).
  • illnesses develop more quickly from HIV infection.
  • memory loss—waking up not knowing what happened.
  • mental health problems, such as severe depression or anxiety, or seeing strange things or hearing voices (hallucinations), being suspicious of others, or having flashbacks.
  • death from using too much at one time (overdose).

In addition, injuries or death from accidents happen more often to these people (and often to their families). This is because they make bad decisions or take unnecessary risks, or because they can lose control of their bodies while using alcohol or drugs. If they have unprotected sex, share needles used toinject drugs, or trade sex for drugs, they are at risk for hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

People who chew tobacco are at risk for most of the same health problems as those who smoke tobacco.

Chewing tobacco and betel nut often ruin a person’s teeth and gums, and cause sores in the mouth, cancer of the mouth and throat, and other harm throughout the body. Khat can cause stomach problems and constipation. Many chewed drugs can cause dependence.

Many poor people, and particularly children who live on the streets, sniff glue and solvents to forget their hunger. This is very addictive and causes serious health problems, such as problems with seeing, trouble thinking and remembering, violent behavior, loss of judgement and body control, severe weight loss, and even heart failure and sudden death.

Any use of drugs and alcohol is dangerous if a person:

  • is driving, using a machine, or dangerous tool.
  • is pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • is caring for small children.
  • is taking medicine, especially medicines for pain, sleep, fits (seizures), or mental health problems.
  • has liver or kidney disease.
  • Burns, A. A., Niemann, S., Lovich, R., Maxwell, J., & Shapiro, K. (2014). Where women have no doctor: A health guide for women. Hesperian Foundation.
  • Audiopedia ID: en010306