As we’ve discussed in this space a few times in the past, recognizing the negative impacts of drugs or alcohol on the body is one common and often effective method of triggering or maintaining substance abuse recovery. It’s often easier for many people to stick with their recovery efforts when they understand precisely how poorly their body is being treated by the substance they abuse, and one category that’s often employed here is information on how substance abuse impacts physical appearance.
At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we’re proud to offer both inpatient and outpatient addiction recovery programs, with services for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, prescription abuse and more. For some of our patients in the past, a simple reckoning with how much their substance abuse has changed their appearance for the worse has served as quality motivation for addiction recovery. Here are some of the key areas of physical appearance tends to be most impacted by substance abuse.
Impact on Hair
For many people, one of the first and most notable changes that comes with substance abuse is a change in hair quality. Drugs and alcohol can cause hair to thin out, fall out or change in color or texture. In some cases, the hair may become brittle and more susceptible to breakage.
Substance abuse can also lead to changes in scalp appearance, including dandruff, redness or excessive oiliness. In extreme cases, hair loss may occur.
Some of the substances that are most likely to cause hair issues include:
- Methamphetamine: Because meth speeds up the metabolism, it can lead to drastic weight loss, which in turn can lead to hair loss.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium. This happens when the hair follicles are pushed into a resting phase and stop growing new hair.
- Cocaine: Cocaine use can lead to changes in the structure of hair fibers, making them brittle and more likely to break.
- Certain prescriptions: Certain abuses of prescription drugs, such as Adderall for instance, can lead to hair loss.
Impact on Skin
Another major area where substance abuse often takes a toll is the skin. Drug use can cause the skin to become dry, pale or yellowish. It can also lead to rashes, acne or other blemishes. In some cases, needle marks from injecting drugs may be visible.
Substance abuse can also alter sweat gland function, which can lead to different skin problems, including an inability to sweat or excessive sweating. Down similar lines, a common skin effect of substance abuse is blocked pores, which can lead to blackheads, whiteheads or other pimples.
Here again, some of the substances that are most likely to cause skin problems include:
- Methamphetamine: Meth is perhaps the best-known drug in terms of negative impact on the skin. Meth use can cause sores on the skin due to picking at one’s skin as a result of hallucinations or delusions. In addition, meth dries out the skin and can cause premature aging.
- Cocaine: Cocaine use can lead to changes in blood vessels just below the skin, which can then cause bruises or red or purple spots on the skin.
- Alcohol: Alcohol abuse can cause flushing, redness and blotchiness on the face. It can also make the skin appear dull and dry.
In many cases, skin will be one of the first physical signs that begins to give away substance abuse issues. If you notice any significant changes in your skin, it may be time to seek help for a possible addiction.
Impact on Teeth and Mouth
Another common area of physical deterioration due to substance abuse is the mouth and teeth. This is especially true of drugs that are smoked, such as cigarettes or meth.
The simple act of smoking, especially with such harmful substances being pushed into the lungs on a regular basis, can lead to stained teeth, gum disease and other dental problems. In addition, those who smoke are more likely to lose teeth as they get older.
Smoking is not the only way substance abuse can damage teeth and mouth though. Meth use, for example, can cause what’s known as “meth mouth,” which is a condition characterized by severe tooth decay, gum disease and other mouth problems. This is due in large part to the fact that meth use often leads to dehydration, which reduces saliva production. Saliva is one of the body’s key defenses against cavities and other dental problems, so reduced saliva production can have a major impact on oral health.
Cocaine use can also cause mouth problems, including gum disease, as well as a condition called “coke nose,” which is characterized by a hole in the tissue between the nostrils.
Alcohol abuse can lead to a number of different mouth problems, including dry mouth, bad breath and an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
Impact on Bones and Muscles
Finally, substance abuse can often have such a profound impact on bones and muscles that, despite these systems existing below the skin and out of sight, your general physical appearance is still noticeably impacted.
Substance abuse can cause bones to become weak and brittle, which increases the risk of fractures. In addition, substance abuse can lead to muscle weakness, wasting and atrophy. Both alcohol and various drugs will often cause these changes.
Anabolic steroids, for example, are often abused by those seeking to improve their physical appearance through increased muscle mass. However, steroid abuse can cause a number of serious side effects, including shrunken testicles, impotence and breast development in men, as well as facial hair growth, deepening of the voice and menstrual irregularities in women.
For more on how substance abuse may impact your physical appearance, or to learn about any of our addiction recovery programs or resources, speak to the team at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.