How Do Drugs Affect Us?

A homeless addict woman sits in a tunnel

One of the major issues with the current U.S. drug problem is the fact that so many people still don’t know all that much about drugs. Millions of Americans still don’t have the data on one of the most severe public health emergencies of our time.

That is quite harmful because the less we know about something, the less capable we are in doing something about it. If we don’t understand a problem, we are less likely to arrive at the correct solution for that problem.

In the case of drugs and drug use, this principle is fundamental. A lot of people do not know how drugs affect the human body. When they don’t really know the details of the harmful effects of drugs, they are more likely to succumb to peer pressure, more likely to cave in and use drugs as a coping mechanism, more likely to use substances as a way to cope with a loss, etc.

So how do drugs affect us? And why should we go to great lengths to avoid them?

The Different Types of Drugs

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of different types of drugs in the world. Many of them are used in the United States, harmful though they are. And while there are lots of different drugs in the U.S. (and more new strains being added each year), most drugs fall into the following three categories:

  • Depressants. Depressants are drugs that slow or “depress” the function of the central nervous system. These are the “downer” drugs. When people take these drugs, their body’s core functions begin to slow down. When they take too much, the body stops functioning altogether. Examples of common depressants are opiates, alcohol, and marijuana.
  • Stimulants. Stimulants fall into the opposite end of the spectrum. Stimulants speed up the user’s central nervous system, creating a rush of energy, an increase in alertness, and a general speed-up of the body’s functions. Stimulants are very harmful to the heart and brain. Such drugs can be lethal. Stimulants include substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.
  • Hallucinogens. Hallucinogens are an entirely different category of drugs. These drugs alter and distort one’s sense of reality. Hallucinogens can cause emotional and psychological paranoia, physical somatics, and other problems. Hallucinogens include LSD, mushrooms, ketamine, and PCP.

While different drugs certainly have different effects, all drugs are harmful, and all drugs have adverse side effects. Even certain pharmaceutical drugs (like opiate painkillers) often have unwanted side effects.

Looking at the Harms of Drug Use

Hospital Emergency

What makes drug use risky? One could hypothesize that most people generally understand that drugs are harmful. Why then do millions of people across the U.S. use drugs?

One might also hypothesize that, while people inherently know that drugs are harmful, people who use drugs don’t often understand the real risks of drug use. All they ever learned was that drugs were destructive, and that they shouldn’t use them. They never learned how drugs were dangerous and why they shouldn’t use them.

Here are a few of the dangers and risk factors that go along with drug use:

  • People who use drugs are more likely to get into an accident. The mind-altering nature of drugs makes people more accident-prone while they are under the influence of drugs. Such accidents can occur at home, in the workplace, while driving a car, etc.
  • When people use drugs, they open themselves up to be victims (or aggressors) in sexual assault. They also increase their risk of engaging in unprotected sex. Such events can lead to trauma, unwanted pregnancies, and the transmission of infections.
  • Drug use can lead to problems at work, difficulties in school, and trouble in the home. That’s because drug use can make it difficult to sleep, eat, think, reason, remember, or even solve basic problems.
  • Drug use can also have serious, long-term effects. Drug use can harm organs within the body, such as the stomach, throat, liver, pancreas, lungs, heart, brain, and nervous system.
  • Using drugs can also increase one’s risk for contracting certain forms of cancer, such as lung cancer from inhaling drugs, or cancer of the liver or esophagus from excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Drug use also increases one’s risk of contracting infectious diseases. IV drug use, a common method of using heroin and other opiates, can lead to sharing needles, which can lead to the spread of blood-borne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.
  • Drug use also leads to skin problems and collapsed veins due to IV use. Users can develop skin lesions and other problems if they frequently pick or scratch at their skin.
  • When people use drugs, there is also a wide range of emotional and psychological risks that go along with such drug use—mood swings, erratic behaviors, psychosis, anger issues, etc.
  • Last but not least, there is the risk of death that comes with using almost any type of drug. When people use drugs, whether it is their first time using or their 100th, every time people use drugs, they take on a degree of risk that such use might prove fatal. Overdoses, driving under the influence, accidents, injuries, organ failure, poisoning, all of these can be consequences of drug use, and all of these can be fatal.

Keeping Our Families Safe

Just with a very brief discussion, we can quickly show people the real danger that lies in drinking and drug use. And we need to get this information known because tens of thousands of people die in the U.S. from drug use every year.

Make sure your family members and loved ones not only know that they shouldn’t use drugs, but that they understand why they shouldn’t use drugs. And if you know someone who is using drugs, make sure they get help at a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Residential drug rehabs offer the safest and most effective treatments for helping people break free from addiction.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.