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.

Drug use can have many short- and long-term health issues like addiction. Drug use can ruin relationships, bank accounts and careers.

The effects of drug use vary based on the type of drug used, the quantity used and a person’s health. Some people can become addicted in a short time, while others take longer. Once a person is addicted, it is hard to stop using drugs.

Short-Term Effects of Drug Use

The time it takes for short-term effects to occur depends on many factors. It largely depends on the type of drug used and the way it was used. For example, injecting heroin can produce effects in seconds, while the effects of marijuana may not occur for 30 minutes.


Alcohol is linked to many health issues. Drinking can cause behavior shifts in minutes.

Short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Slurred speech
  • Blackouts
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations

Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning. This is one of the most serious risks of drinking. Alcohol poisoning can cause people to feel cold, have a seizure and limit their breathing.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.


Opioids include legal and illegal drugs. Although legal opioids are often prescribed by doctors, they can still be dangerous.

The effects of opioids can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Fast heart rate
  • Slow breathing
  • Coma

Opioid use can lead to overdose. Even opioids from doctors can lead to overdose. An untreated overdose can lead to death.


Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are used to treat anxiety, insomnia and panic disorders. Because they depress the central nervous system, they can cause people to feel tired and weak.

The short-term effects can include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Tremors
  • Breathing issues

Benzos can cause an overdose if too many are used. They can also slow reflexes and affect how people behave, both of which can cause serious injury.


Marijuana use produces a high that many people enjoy. Although many people do not think cannabis is a great risk to their health, it can cause short-term effects.

Those effects can include:

  • Acting silly
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling tired
  • Memory issues
  • Anxiety

People using marijuana can have panic attacks. Using the drug often can change the brain and cause people to behave differently.


Stimulants enhance the nervous system. Stimulants include prescription drugs and illegal drugs. When used a lot, they are harmful to a person’s health.

Short-term effects of stimulants can include:

  • High temperature
  • Heart issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced hunger
  • Tremors
  • Hostility

Stimulants can cause heart failure and can cause changes that lead to risky behavior.


Hallucinogens alter perceptions and cause people to feel separate from reality. These drugs include LSDPCPpeyoteketamine and mushrooms.

The short-term effects of hallucinogens can include:

  • Losing touch with reality
  • Warm skin
  • Big pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid breathing

Hallucinogens can also cause people to have out-of-body experiences. These results can cause anxiety and sleep issues.

Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse

Some drugs can have long-term effects that can last for years. The effects of drugs can be physical or psychological. The type of effects varies from drug to drug. Each type of drug affects people in different ways.

Long-Term Effects on the Body

Regular drug use can have a major impact on the body. Drug addiction can slowly deteriorate the body. In time, drugs can cause damage to the brain, heart, liver, lungs and kidneys.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that long-term use of substances boosts a person’s risk of cancer. Men who start using marijuana as teens put themselves at the highest risk of testicular cancer.

Other long-term effects of drug use are:

  • Bone damage
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Insomnia
  • Brain damage
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome

Snorting drugs can ruin nasal lining and cause injury. Injecting drugs increases the risk of getting HIV and hepatitis.

Long-Term Effects on the Brain

Drug use affects the brain. A common result of drug use is mental illness.

Mental illness can affect a person’s life and cause health issues. People living with a mental condition are at a higher risk of suicide.

Drug use can cause depression. People with depression can lose interest in hobbies, eat too much and have major mood swings. Depression can also lead to suicide.

Some drugs can cause psychosis, which includes makes people overly tired, angry, active or excited.

If drug use affects your life, contact The Recovery Village. Call to speak with a representative about how treatment can help you.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.