long term drug side effects

We all know that drugs can be harmful. Whether you participated in the D.A.R.E. program as a child, have watched a loved one go through the process of addiction, or have turned on the news recently, you know that drugs can destroy lives.

However, many people don’t realize that recreational drug use can have consequences long after the cessation of use. From illicit substances like methamphetamine to commonly used legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, the long-term effects of abuse may continue to impact an individual for months or years.


Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that act as a depressant on the central nervous system. Colloquially known as “benzos,” benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety disorders and seizures. Because of their sedative and anxiolytic effects, they have become increasingly popular as a recreational drug.

In addition to benzodiazepines causing tolerance and dependence at an alarmingly quick rate, the drug can cause lasting effects on an individual. For example, going through clonazepam withdrawal can cause acute symptoms of mental confusion, nausea, and even seizures. Although acute symptoms generally last a couple weeks, an individual may experience decreased cognitive function and anxiety for months or even years later.

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Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that was prescribed to treat depression and overeating in the 1950’s. It began to be used as a recreational drug in the 1970’s and has grown in popularity since. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 1.2 million Americans used methamphetamine in 2012, with 440,000 using it monthly.

Using meth for an extended period of time can cause anxiety, mood disturbances, and depression. During the withdrawal process, an individual may experience meth induced psychosis, a state in which an individual may experience hallucinations, paranoia, and fits of anger. Even after quitting meth, the structure of the brain remains changed, causing memory loss, impaired motor function, and poor emotional regulation.


Opioids like heroin, prescription painkillers, and fentanyl have gotten a lot of press recently. Opioid abuse is on the rise, and overdoses are at an all-time high. These are incredibly dangerous drugs that can be deadly when abused. The short-term effects may include nausea, paranoia, and sleepiness.

One of the scariest parts about opioids is that they can cause lasting damage to the brain and body. Consistent abuse of opiates may cause chronic liver damage or dopamine depletion. Dopamine depletion is when your brain runs low on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure. When the brain is depleted of dopamine, it is difficult for a person to experience joy and happiness. Things that previously brought joy such as exercise, social engagement, food, and laughter may not create the same happiness that it once did.


Marijuana is a popular recreational drug, with over 22 million people using it monthly according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With the legalization of marijuana in recent years in many states, marijuana has grown in popularity. Many people think of it as a relatively harmless substance, not realizing that it may have lasting effects, especially on a developing brain.

Marijuana causes changes in brain structure resulting in impaired ability to learn and develop short term memory. Furthermore, use of marijuana during adolescent years may cause a change in the brain structure that dictates reward response. This gives weight to the idea of a “gateway drug,” as individuals are more likely to seek pleasure from other drugs in the future. The degree of long-term effects depends largely on the amount used, frequency of use, and how old the user is when they begin using.


Like marijuana, alcohol is often perceived as a safe substance. Alcohol is fairly accessible and commonly consumed. There are many people that have a glass of wine or a beer here and there without problem. However, chronic alcoholism can cause serious and dangerous side effects.

Persistent alcohol consumption can cause irreparable damage to the liver, Korsakoff’s psychosis, and pancreatitis. In addition alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Regular alcohol consumption also increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer such as oropharyngeal and esophageal. Alcohol may also cause lesions in the brain that stay present long after you stop consuming alcohol.

When we choose to use drugs, it’s beneficial to know what we’re getting into. Drug abuse has serious consequences which we may experience for years after quitting using. By educating ourselves about the dangers of drug abuse, we can hopefully make an intelligent decision about what we choose to put into our bodies. 

Matthew Sockolov is an empowered Buddhist meditation teacher, and offers one on one mindfulness coaching to individuals who wish to deepen their meditation practice.

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