The Dwindling Spiral of Addiction—What Happens When Addicts Don’t Get Help

Lonely addicted woman sitting on the street.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a growing problem, a crippling health epidemic that has expanded across all aspects and areas of American health and life. Unfortunately, the drug addiction problem in this country has done nothing but grow more prominent for almost two decades in a row. Many experts are saying that the addiction problem has never been this bad, a major crisis that expands beyond public health and takes us into emergency conditions with our crime and justice areas, the economy, and the very socio-humanitarian structure of our country itself.

One could say pretty easily that the whole accursed subject of drug and alcohol addiction is not one that we want to discuss all that much. This is a subject that, while it certainly has become prominent in our society, most people want nothing to do with it, most people don’t want to address it, and most people don’t even want to talk about it. However, we need to talk about it, and we need to understand the inner workings of addiction if we ever hope to do something about this problem.

So let's take a few paragraphs, let’s buckle down, and let's explore some of the more intricate natures of addiction and the kind of effect that such a habit has on a person in the long-term.

The Health Implications of Drug Use

When a person makes the decision to use drugs and alcohol, they effectively make a choice that can only have a negative outcome. They are knowingly deciding to take on a habit or lifestyle choice that will significantly impinge upon their physical and mental health, all for the worse. A drug habit or alcohol habit never ends well. It never gives the addict anything beneficial or helpful. Drug and alcohol abuse only ever brings pain and hardship.

When a person uses drugs and drinks to excess, they are putting a substance in their body that is toxic and poisonous to their body. Alcohol damages the liver and kidneys. Opioid pharmaceuticals and heroin are extremely harmful to the brain and central nervous system. Cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine have devastating effects on the heart and lungs. And all of these substances have extremely damaging effects on one’s mental constitution as well.

Woman at the hospital

While no one should ever use drugs even just once, the effects of drug use and alcohol misuse grow exponentially more severe the more one takes part in such activities. While it is true that an individual can absolutely get addicted to a drug after just one use, the physical health of somebody who has been using drugs and alcohol for one year straight is going to look markedly different from the physical and mental health of someone who has only been experimenting with drugs and alcohol for a week. It is a cumulative affair. Such activities start doing damage right away, but the more one participates, the more damage accumulates in one’s body.

The entire time that an individual is using drugs and alcohol, his or her body is trying to defend against the poisonous substances. This creates a phenomenon known as tolerance. The body literally builds up a tolerance to drugs and alcohol, being that the body is fully aware of such substances as being poisons and toxins and whatnot. When this happens, instead of ceasing all substance abuse habits, the person usually just uses more drugs and more alcohol and overloads the body’s newly-built tolerance for those substances. The person damages themselves all over again.

Then there is all of the exterior and conditional health problems and negative lifestyle choices that come about because of a drug habit which don’t necessarily have anything to do with the drugs themselves. The same kinds of people who use drugs and alcohol are also going to be the same kinds of people who commit crimes and who get into trouble with the law. They are the same kind of people who are going to have promiscuous and unprotected sex and become the effect of life-risking STDs. They are the same kind of people who are going to get in fights, steal, get into car accidents, hurt others, destroy families, create collateral damage, end up in prison, end up in the hospital, etc.

The Blunt, Lethal Truth of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The website, “” has a remarkable tool for measuring the lifespan and the total years lost as a result of participating in certain drug habits. Obviously, a person’s lifespan is going to vary a lot, depending on the person, their genetics, and what kind of substances they’ve been using and for how long. However, the calculator is able to estimate pretty accurately the total life years that are lost due to drug use or alcoholism.

For example:

  • The average alcoholic who has several drinks a day and who started drinking when they were eighteen and who drinks daily will only live into his fifties.
  • The average cocaine addict who uses cocaine just twice a day will lose about eighteen years off of their lifespan.
  • The average meth user who uses meth twice a day will likely lose almost thirty years in total years lost off their lifespan. Meth is highly toxic to the human body.
  • The average methadone user will likely only live into their late forties or early fifties.
  • The average heroin user who shoots up twice a day will likely only live to be about thirty-nine.

Keep in mind for all of these estimates that these are all individuals who are not dying from overdoses. These are just individuals who are dying sooner than they normally would because of the sheer physiological strain that drug and alcohol substances are having on their bodies.

Addict sitting alone in a hotel room

An overdose is a wild card. It’s the crazy eight. The unpredictable factor. The unknown. Any and every addict has his or her lifespan shortened significantly by drug use and alcohol misuse. But any addict can and often does overdose, and overdoses can be lethal.

Addressing Modern-Day Addiction

For us all to do our part in addressing the scourge that is drug addiction and alcoholism, we first have to make considerable efforts in raising awareness of the problem. For all of the many laudable traits and characteristics of the United States, we are highly ignorant when it comes to understanding the true risks attendant with drugs, both illegal street drugs, and legal pharmaceuticals.

For example, research indicates that young people are four-hundred percent less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol when they know the risks involved. Yet only one-third of parents bother to educate their kids on these risks. That is just one example of where we could improve.

Another area where we need to improve is on our efforts towards rehabilitation. We have to take a more rehabilitation-focused stance in addressing the drug problem. We will never be able to “incarcerate away” drug addiction in America. When we put drug addicts in jail, it just costs the American taxpayer thousands of dollars and creates more problems in areas like recidivism and other social issues. We need to take a stance that strongly supports not only an increased level of education on the subjects of drugs and alcohol, but also an increase in priority towards treating addiction with the help of rehabilitation centers as opposed to simply addressing the problem with criminal incarceration.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, 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.