Addiction is a disease. It’s a little harder to diagnose than most but it is still considered a disease. Just like any other disease, addiction will start to take a toll on your physical health. If it’s gotten to a point where it is starting to affect your physical health, it’s probably already affecting your mental and emotional health as well. One of the reasons it’s so hard to catch is that addiction is all about craving and rewarding those cravings. You feel like you need something and when you satisfy that ‘need’, it seems like everything gets better. Sadly, that is not the case.
My days as an alcoholic started far too soon, not that there is ever a right time to start being an alcoholic, but I was a preteen. I was at a family party and decided to try the adults’ poison of choice, Aguardiente, when no one was looking. I’m Colombian and in Colombian parties, the grown-ups really know how to have a good time. I just wanted to have some fun like they were, so I grabbed an unmanned cup of the sweet, anise-flavored liqueur. That was the first time I got drunk, but definitely not the last.
As I grew older I started adding more substances to the mix which eventually landed me in jail by my early twenties.
It wasn’t up until that point that I really took a step back from my life and realized how much I had been hurting myself and everyone around me. I finally realized that I had to make some real changes in my life if I ever wanted things to get better, so I decided to get into rehabilitation and start detoxing from alcohol.
You may be thinking, ‘what were the signs that made you realize that?’
For one, I was always broke, whether it was because I wasn’t making any money or that I was just spending it too fast. I had a bad relationship with everyone that cared about me, the only people I felt okay with were the ones that also had substance abuse problems.
The people I care about always seemed to be sad, disappointed or walking on eggshells around me.
I wasn’t looking my best.
I was basically living a double life, trying to hide how much I used and the fact that I was even using at all.
The jail was also a huge wake-up call for me, as a kid growing up, I never imagined I would end up in this position.
When I made the choice to get better, I soon discovered how bad my health had really gotten. How bad did it get? Well, let me fill you in:
Substance abuse causes brain damage. This is a fact. Long-term drug and alcohol abuse actually changes the way your brain functions.
This affects parts of your brain that regulate and control your stress levels, pleasure/reward, decision-making skills, and even things as basic as your impulses, learning, and memory.
Throw in the fact that your brain is what sends and receives information from the rest of your body so that you can function, and you’re also looking at various other possible health problems.
We’re talking mental health disorders like stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, anger management issues, and depression, just to name a few. You could have memory impairment, where you don’t remember whole chunks of your day, night or life. You could even experience brain shrinkage.
I was suffering from a lot of these symptoms and it made my life miserable. I was always exhausted, moody, incredibly scatterbrained, and even went through a very bad bout of depression. If you feel like any of these apply to you, it can be tough to deal with both addiction and other disorders, but don’t ever give in to the thought that this is something impossible to overcome. Trust me, just by having a positive mindset you are already halfway to recovery.
It’s simple, alcohol and drugs change the way your body metabolizes the food you eat. Metabolizing the substances themselves changes a number of things your body would normally do. Long-term alcohol and substance abuse weaken your immune system and its ability to protect your body from disease, infection and anything else you come in contact with that could potentially damage your health.
I was constantly getting sick. I almost couldn’t remember how it felt to not be sick and every time I felt bad, I turned to drugs and alcohol which of course, only made matters worse.
This kind of abuse can even lead to a number of heart problems.
For example, I had an accelerated heart rate. I didn’t know it at the time but at the smallest sign of stress my heart would start beating very fast and I would get these strong pains in my chest. I would feel out of breath, dizzy, tired, and I fainted quite often.
I actually feel extremely lucky that this was all that was wrong with my heart. Substance abuse can also lead to heart attacks. That’s right, heart attacks, can you believe that?
It’s common knowledge that alcoholics are at high risk of liver cirrhosis, which can also be fatal, but the risk isn’t for alcoholics alone. The liver has to work extra hard no matter what substance is abused, which can not only lead to liver damage but also aliver failure.
Long-term substance abuse can also lead to nutritional deficiencies. These can manifest in the form of body temperatures that are either higher or lower than they should be which can also lead to seizures and serious cardiovascular problems. The use of certain substances like steroids can also alter your physiology.
It’s true, alcohol and substance abuse can definitely have very negative effects on your health, and the longer you’re on them the worse they can get. If you feel like you may have trouble managing your use of certain substances, seek help and get treated before it’s too late.
I was very lucky that I caught it when I did. If I had kept going the way I was, the results could very well have been fatal. I’ve been sober for over 6 years now and it’s an ongoing process. You have to find things that you enjoy that help keep you healthy. For me, that happened to be yoga. For you, it might be something totally different from playing football or going to the gym. The point I’m trying to make is we are all unique. Get out there and find what will help you get healthy as well as make you happy.
Do you have any stories or tips that might help others stay healthy/sober? If so, share them with us in the comment section below.