Although drug addiction and alcoholism are the addictions most people are familiar with, they’re not the only addictions that can ruin lives. In addition to alcohol and drugs, there’s tobacco and even addictive behaviors like eating, shopping and gambling that can have disastrous health, social, legal and financial consequences.
Some of the most dangerous drugs in the US are legal. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that tobacco, alcohol, and opioid painkillers were responsible for more direct deaths in one year than any other drug.
Directly and indirectly, addictions affect physical and mental health, cause sicknesses and diseases, and alter moods and emotions. They also affect a person’s hormone levels, their family, their friendships and workplaces, their state of mind and their livelihoods. Here are 20 ways addictions can ruin lives:
1. Addictions destroy physical health
The dangerous gamut of getting sick from addictions ranges from the shakes, severe stomach pains and vomiting to blackouts and hallucinations. Some drugs can damage internal organs like the liver, brain, lungs and the throat. For example, inhaling glue can cause hearing loss and kidney damage. Even excessive marijuana use has been shown to impact memory, attention span, concentration and learning.
2. Tobacco causes numerous deaths
When it comes to health risk factors, multiple side effects and outright deadliness, no single substance comes close to tobacco. Despite excuses, it’s a documented fact. More Americans die from tobacco-caused health problems (like lung cancer and heart disease) than from drug overdoses, traffic accidents and homicides combined. Smoking is linked to one in five deaths in the US each year, and nearly 42,000 of the total 480,000 deaths from smoking are caused by second hand smoke.
3. Despite its popularity, alcohol claims lives
Although it’s often considered more socially acceptable and even fun, alcohol-caused health problems — such as liver disease — claim more than 30,000 lives a year. When an alcohol connection factors into deaths caused by car accidents and homicides, the toll rises to 88,000 per year.
4. Opioids are commonly prescribed – and deadly
It may a suddenly media-trendy term, particularly after some recent high-profile celebrity deaths from opioid painkillers (like Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson) have brought public attention to the opioid addiction that has become a national epidemic. In some cases, opioid overdose deaths involve multiple drugs or combinations. Benzodiazepines and alcohol, for example, can increase the risk of an opioid overdose.
5. Injuries under the influence
Broken bones. Head injuries. Stitches. It’s a documented fact: under the influence of drugs, people do things they wouldn’t normally do, increasing their chances of getting hurt or having accidents like falling and being involved in car collisions.
6. Sharing paraphernalia causes infectious diseases
Sharing needles from injecting certain types of drugs, and even sharing pipes or bongs, can be a major risk factor for common and serious infectious diseases like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, mono and HIV.
7. Drug-fueled violence and other safety concerns
Being under the influence of drugs is shown to increase the chances of being in unpredictable and dangerous situations. The effects of some drugs can cause people to do things they may not usually do and also increases the risk of overdosing. Some drugs can increase the likelihood of violent behavior, and stats show that drug-induced violence can lead to serious injury to the individual and to others.
8. Pregnancy and STDs are real risks
While ‘under the influence,’ people are less likely to remember to practice safe sex. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy or the spread of STDs like HIV/AIDS.
9. Addictions cause dopamine disturbance
Dopamine is the chemical responsible for activating the reward system in the brain. Addictions to anything (even food) disturb the dopamine levels in the brain and cause the addicted person to be less sensitive to rewards and feel more dull, unsatisfied and bored with people and life in general.
10. Chronic alcohol use can cause low testosterone
Contrary to the myth, testosterone is produced by men and women. Most importantly, testosterone reduces depression and prevents mood swings. There are testosterone side effects from various drugs but, when it comes to just alcohol, research shows that people who drink occasionally have 20 percent less testosterone. Heavier drinkers have as much as 40-50 percent less testosterone.
11. Behavioral addictions are more serious than you think
Behavioral addictions are also called ‘process addictions’ and often not taken as serious health hazards as substance addictions. But they can be! They are very real and can be damaging. Overcoming them often requires the same intensive care that drug addicts need.
The cycle of addictive behaviors—from binge eating, to sex, shopping, hoarding or gambling—can become destructive. Compulsive eating can lead to weight gain and low self-esteem. Gambling or shopping addiction can destroy finances and relationships. Sex addiction can leave a person feeling alone and ashamed. And internet addiction can destroy relationships, social interaction and lead to isolation.
12. Addictions cause stress, tension and mood swings
In-denial addicts kid themselves when they say their addiction helps with relaxation and eases stress. On the contrary, the facts and figures conclusively prove that many addictions lead to changes in the brain which trigger increased anxiety, stress and mood changes.
13. Addiction results in depression
After the highs come the lows. It’s a classic fact of addicted life. Feeling low after using certain drugs (including alcohol) is dangerously common. Sometimes people use drugs as a short-term way to cope with their depression, but drug use is documented as actually worsening feelings of depression.
14. Mental illnesses are linked to addiction
Although scientists generally agree that there is a link between drug use and some serious mental illnesses, like depression and schizophrenia, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is still not sure whether serious drug use leads to mental illness or if having a mental illness increases the exposure and use of drugs.
15. Family, friends and work relationships are shattered by addiction
Even when addicts are momentarily sober, they go through the speedbumps of ruined relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. There are frequently conflicts and breakdowns in communication. Addictions often trigger arguments and cause suspicions, accusations and trust issues.
16. Emotional and spiritual health can be compromised
Medical researchers admit that it’s a challenge to effectively detect and document the emotional and spiritual state of addicts. There’s no test to accurately diagnose private feelings such as the shame, embarrassment and guilt about drinking, using drugs, or gambling.
Evidence shows, though, that the emotional toll is heavy. Despite the familiar but false assumption that the addiction is OK, the subconscious mind accumulates guilt and is in an increasingly bad mood. The addict always feels bad and convinces themselves that feeling bad is normal. They feel less and less supported and connected to others, and have a sensation that there is no purpose to life.
17. Addiction causes a self-esteem slump
Because addictions trigger anxiety and cause the brain’s dopamine levels to drop, addicts become more self-conscious, discouraged, down and experience drastically reduced self-esteem. On the encouraging flip side, many who manage to kick addictions feel much more confident, with improved and active social relationships.
18. Addiction messes with concentration
Brainwave patterns show that common side effects of drug use (like a hangover or a ‘coming down’ feeling) reduce the brain’s ability to focus and concentrate. It ruins lives and causes serious problems at school or work. The inability to focus makes it difficult for addicts to pay attention, properly understand details, instructions, and requirements. They experience failure to keep promises, meet expectations and complete projects.
19. Addiction results in money problems
Poverty. Homelessness. Crime. Many lives become financially ruined as a consequence of addictions.
The financial side effects of addictions usually start subtly — bad credit, missed payments, toxic debts and late fees — but eventually these money problems spiral out of control. Despite a tough time paying off debt or even making regular rent payments, somehow addicts always find money to pay for their addictions.
Money problems snowball. Drugs get pricey. Heavy alcohol use gets expensive. The cost of gambling is obvious. In extreme situations, addicts will try anything — including illegal activities like theft – to get money for their next fix. When people neglect household expenses to cover the cost of addictions, the strain eventually reaches a breaking point.
20. Legal repercussions are a real possibility
Despite social controversies, and although alcohol and tobacco are legal, making, selling or having illegal drugs is against the law. It’s also against the law to give or sell prescription drugs to people who don’t have a prescription from a doctor. Punishments for breaking these laws include having to go to court —which might result in being sent to jail, having to pay hefty fines or having to enter rehab programs.
The most common way the consequences of breaking the law can ruin a life? Getting a lawyer is complicated and expensive.