Consequences of Addiction—the Negative Impact of Substance Abuse

The consequences of addiction are pervasive if substance abuse continues long enough. Eventually, there is no realm of our lives exempt from its negative impact. Typically, the consequences begin slowly and accumulate over time as a Substance Use Disorder progresses from mild to moderate and eventually severe.

The Emotional Consequences of Addiction

The emotional toll of addiction can be far-ranging. Of course, when intoxication goes ‘right’, one feels euphoria, but this becomes a roll of the dice after abusing substances for a while. Eventually, we can’t depend upon even our usual substance of choice to make us feel better for even just a while. This occurs because the brain and nervous system have accommodated its presence as addiction builds. Also, the toxicity in the system is typically high, causing stress and ‘burnout’ in the brain and nervous system’s functioning.

One of the most common emotional results of addiction is depression. This is a flattened or down feeling but is also reflected in the brain’s functioning and in mental and physical symptoms. The dysphoric feelings have many related components in thinking, for example. One has an attitude of hopelessness, disempowerment, and helplessness. And, indeed, were we to see a scan of the brain’s functioning when these things are felt, we would see large areas of the brain underactive or shut down. The brain itself becomes disempowered, again due to chronic toxic exposure, but also due to any depressant drugs used. However, depressant drugs like alcohol, tranquilizers or opioids are not the only cause of depressed brain functioning. Even stimulants that intensify brain activity leave the brain underactive between doses. The ‘crash’ from stimulant use also results in a depressive reaction.

Depression can reach clinical levels for most addicts very quickly. In fact, it is to be expected. Clinical depression is a condition that impairs everyday functioning for at least two weeks. There can be sleep and appetite disturbances, poor concentration, down mood most of the day on most days, lack of pleasure and even suicidal thoughts, gestures or attempts.

Situational Emotional Consequences of Addiction

Apart from the toxic exposure to substances, another common source of emotional distress for those with addictions is the situations caused by substance abuse. These causes are known as situational rather than the biological effects of brain toxicity. Many adverse situations can result when substance abuse is prolonged or heavy. For example, relationships become damaged or lost; one may lose work or housing, and financial problems and legal problems are common. In short, as life becomes unmanageable, one is likely to have a ‘streak of bad luck’ resulting in losses across the board, negative feedback from others, alienation and rejection. Additionally, the stigma of having an addiction adds to situational despair and negative feedback. Such conditions can cause clinical depression with profound feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem, a pessimistic outlook, self-loathing and self-pity.

Loss and Grief—Common Emotional Consequences of Addiction

Addiction incurs many losses for anyone who uses over a period of time, and these losses are both internal and external. Internally, one loses self-respect, self-control, mastery of skills, the ability to discern, make effective decisions and problem-solving. Across the board, one’s cognitive skills decline, as does one’s ability to perform work tasks or academic tasks well.

Also, as addiction progresses, one loses a sense of identity, purpose, and meaning in daily life. Identity is often centered around work or relationships, but as these are lost, so is one’s sense of self. Also, the usual activities of one’s life that give one purpose and a sense of meaning recede into the background as addiction takes center stage.
Physical losses are common in addiction, too. Loss of income and property is common. So is the loss of esteem of others and one’s reputation. Relationships typically cannot bear the weight of a prolonged addiction and even if people remain in one’s life, many related losses occur.

In recovery, a significant loss for people is the loss of their active addiction. Substance abuse typically fills in the emptiness of one’s life in many ways. Giving up an addiction can feel ironically like giving up a good friend. Also, if significant losses have occurred during addiction such as the death of a loved one, it is common for that loss to remain ungrieved and raw until sobriety and time to process the loss occur.

Mental Consequences of Addiction

The range of mental faculties is impaired by addiction and the chronic toxic exposure as discussed above. However, there are other mental consequences that involve thinking distortions, or erroneous thinking patterns, that develop in addiction. Some of these thinking patterns are blaming others, thinking self to be a victim, justifying one’s behavior, rationalizing drug use, arrogance and know-it-all-ism, minimizing the impact of drug use, and denial. All of these can contribute to self-sabotage and to the perpetuation of an addiction. These thinking patterns also fuel behavior and cause multiple relationship and communication problems in many areas of one’s life.

The Behavioral Consequences of Addiction

Addiction hijacks one’s self-control and so behavior can be out of control in many instances. Primarily, one’s substance use in addiction is compulsive—meaning there is an overwhelming urge to use and even the desire to not use is overridden. At a very basic level then, one’s behavioral control is severely compromised.

Also, behavior becomes disinhibited when intoxicated, and after a long period of use, one accumulates many incidences of inappropriate behavior. People with addictions typically have a laundry list of things they feel guilty or ashamed about, having violated standards of appropriate conduct, and often, even violated their own moral codes.
Treatment and recovery offer tools for resolving a great many things, and among them is a very useful strategy called making amends. This encourages you to be specific about the harm you feel you have done others through your behavior and to make amends as best you can.

Sometimes the behavioral consequences of addiction lead to legal issues, and this can be problematic for some time. Many have professionals that will not allow you to continue after certain legal issues without some rectification. Others may find that they are unable to pursue their professions after certain legal problems at all.

Relationship Consequences of Addiction

There are many social aspects of addiction, and much that can become chaotic in relationships. For example, some become involved with people they ordinarily wouldn’t if substances weren’t involved. Sexual activity can be riskier and less discriminating. And, one’s chief socialization can be through a shared interest in substances rather than based on any other common ground. The result of such dynamics can be chaotic and unsettling, even hazardous.

Relationships with significant others can be badly damaged or broken. In the family, addiction replaces our Addiction Recovery for Every Issueparticipation and shouldering of our responsibilities. We become less reliable and emotionally less present. If we have spouses or partners, they are often left with an extra share to deal with. And if we co-parent, our participation there can be less effective and less consistent. It’s also not unusual for relationships on many levels to be damaged by our addictions, even those very distant from home. For example, co-workers and colleagues can become negatively affected by our drug use if work performance declines and causes them problems.

Families and the Consequences of Addiction

Families, in particular, bear the brunt of a person’s addiction, particularly if there is frequent contact or family members are living in the same home. When addiction lingers and impairs one family member, the others have to adjust to accommodate this. Family members will take on various roles as a way to help the family in crisis due to an active addiction.

Some of the family roles include the overly responsible person who takes on extra responsibility in order to keep the family operating as best it can; the hero who tries to make the family feel better by achieving and bringing pride to the family; the mascot who distracts the family from shared pain with sweet antics… Also, there are roles such as the enabler or caretaker who tries to help the addict directly; the rebel who acts out and often expresses the anger of the family; and the scapegoat that draws attention to him or herself, away from the addict and the pain of the family has about the addiction.

One family member’s addiction creates pain for the rest of the family members. If the addiction is severe enough, the family will have little resources or energy left for their own individual growth and development. They will be in constant crisis mode, coping and reacting to whatever chaos the addiction brings. When an addicted family member enters sobriety, there is still a great deal of healing to be done among other family members. Each family member will need to heal individually and with the family unit as a whole.

Assessing the Cost of an Addiction

The costs of an addiction can be financially exorbitant when tallied. However, the total cost is not simply a monetary sum. As you can see by just some of the consequences of addiction that are listed here, the toll of one person’s addiction can run deep and wide. Recovery efforts do not stop when one leaves rehab but is a holistic process that continues long after.

Withdrawal and detox officially begin the recovery from addiction, and from there the other levels of life can more easily heal. It can be an overwhelming and sobering moment to realize the extent of damage caused by one’s addictive illness, and it is important to immerse yourself in finding solutions and moving forward. If you are ready to begin your recovery, or an addicted loved is, give us a call. We can help you find appropriate treatment options. You and your family do not have to suffer anymore.