Effects of Drugs

Drug abuse can have negative effects on both the body and the brain. Learn about the possible short and long-term effects of drug use.

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Drug use can produce a wide range of short- and long-term health complications that can result in many physical and psychological health problems, including drug addiction. Over time, the effects of drugs can compromise relationships, finances and academics.

The effects of drug abuse vary based on the type of substance used, the quantity of the drug and a person’s overall well-being. Some people can become addicted to drugs quickly, while it takes longer for others to develop a substance use disorder. Once addicted, it is difficult to stop engaging in substance use.

Short-Term Effects of Drug Use

The time it takes for the short-term effects of drugs to occur largely depends on the type of substance being used and the method of administration. For example, the Center for Substance Abuse Research states that intravenously injecting heroin can produce effects within 7 to 8 seconds, while the peak effects of marijuana may not occur for 30 minutes.


The most popular psychoactive substance in the world, alcohol is associated with many physical and mental health complications. Drinking can lower inhibitions and lead to behavioral changes within minutes of use.

Short-term effects of alcohol can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Stomach distress
  • Slurred speech
  • Blackouts
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations

Heavy or binge drinking can result in alcohol poisoning, one of the most serious consequences of excessive drinking. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include lowered body temperature, suppressed breathing and seizures.


Opioids include heroin and legal painkillers like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. Although prescription opioids are often recommended by physicians, these drugs can still produce harming, immediate health problems.

The short-term effects of opioid use can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Increased heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Coma

Opioid use can lead to an overdose, which occurs when someone takes too much of a particular drug. Heroin is closely associated with overdose, but even prescription opioids can cause symptoms of an overdose. An untreated overdose can lead to death.


Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs designed to reduce anxiety, insomnia and panic disorders. Because these substances depress the central nervous system, people can experience grogginess and lethargy in the minutes after using a benzodiazepine, like Xanax.

The short-term effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Tremors
  • Respiratory depression

Like opioids, benzodiazepines are powerful drugs that can result in overdose if taken in large doses. These substances can also cause significant behavioral changes and slowed reflexes that can increase the risk of injury.


The most popular illicit drug in the United States, marijuana emits THC into the body and produces euphoric effects. Although many people do not perceive cannabis as a great risk to a person’s health, the drug can cause several distressing short-term effects.

The short-term effects of marijuana can include:

  • Acting giggly or silly for no reason
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety

People high on marijuana can experience severe bouts of anxiety that can lead to panic attacks. Continuously using cannabis can permanently change the brain and cause individuals to act irrationally.


Stimulants are drugs that enhance the level of nervous activity in the body. Stimulants include legal substances, like Ritalin and Adderall, or illicit drugs like cocaine. When used in excess, these drugs are highly dangerous to your health.

The short-term effects of stimulants can include:

  • High body temperature
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tremors
  • Hostility

Stimulants can result in cardiovascular system failure, especially if cocaine is involved. These substances can also lead to behavioral changes that can contribute to risky behaviors, like driving while intoxicated on drugs.


Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that alter perceptions and cause people to feel disconnected from their environment. These substances include LSD, PCP, peyote, ketamine and psychedelic mushrooms.

The short-term effects of hallucinogens can include:

  • Distorted reality
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Abnormal, rapid breathing

Hallucinogens can also cause people to endure an out-of-body experience. They can begin to see things that are not there. Unpredictable hallucinogenic trips can cause severe anxiety, panic or nightmares.

Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse

Some of the short-term effects of drugs, like euphoria and nausea, fade over time. However, some substances can produce long-term effects that can last for years. The long-term effects of drugs can be physical or psychological.

Long-Term Effects on the Body

Regular drug use can have profound effects on the body. If someone develops a drug addiction, their body can slowly deteriorate. Over time, the effects of drugs can result in organ damage to the brain, heart, liver, lungs or kidneys.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term use of alcohol, marijuana, steroids or tobacco can increase a person’s risk of developing various cancers. Adult males who began using marijuana as teens put themselves at risk of an aggressive form of testicular cancer.

Additional long-term effects of drug abuse on the body include:

Intranasal substance use can cause irritation of the nasal lining and nasal bleeding. Intravenous drug use can result in tuberculosis, cellulitis and an infection of the heart lining. Injecting drugs also increases a person’s risk of infectious diseases, like HIV and hepatitis.

Long-Term Effects on the Brain

Drug use affects brain functioning. A common outcome of continuous drug use is mental illness. Mental health disorders associated with substance use include anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Psychological disorders can be severely debilitating. They can lead to memory problems, negative thoughts and behavioral changes. Individuals grappling with a mental illness are at an increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Depression is one of the more common mental disorders related to excessive drug use. People battling depression often lose interest in their normal hobbies, overeat and experience feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and irritability. In extreme cases, depression can bring about suicidal thoughts.

Some drugs, like cocaine and hallucinogens, can cause long-term psychosis. A severe mental condition, psychosis is characterized by the presence of restlessness, hostility, hyperactivity, agitation and aggression.

If you’re dealing with a psychological disorder caused by drug use, contact The Recovery Village. A representative can speak with you about the benefits of treatment and how to pay for rehab. They can also provide you with a list of nearby treatment centers that fit your specific needs.

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