Can Alcohol Or Drug Abuse Cause Premature Aging?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on February 12, 2021

Premature aging caused by drug and alcohol abuse varies by individual, and depends on the type of substance, duration of abuse, and the severity of the addiction. A person who begins treatment should follow-up with a trusted medical provider to address any and all health concerns.

Premature Aging From Alcohol And Drug Abuse

Both drug and alcohol use accelerate the aging process due to the damaging effects toxic substances have on the brain and body.

Substance abuse alters the body’s normal biological processes and increases the progression of age-related diseases in many ways.

Research shows that premature aging caused by substance abuse is mainly caused by adverse reactions to oxidative stress that leads to cellular aging, excitotoxicity in brain neurons, and mitochondrial cellular damage.

How Alcohol Abuse And Drug Abuse Can Affect The Aging Process

Over time, the reactions caused by substance abuse lead to significant brain and body degeneration.

Toxic effects on the brain from drug or alcohol abuse include:

  • damage to the brain’s dopamine system
  • changes to the brain’s chemical receptors and neurotransmitters
  • inflammation of the brain and central nervous system
  • damage caused by lack of oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain

Toxic effects on the body include:

  • compromised immune system
  • damage to the cardiovascular system
  • heart damage due to myocardial infarction
  • bacterial infections of the heart and blood vessels
  • lung damage leading to bronchitis, emphysema, asthma
  • disrupted and inadequate sleep cycles
  • poor diet and hygiene
  • dehydration

The toxic effects of substance abuse vary by individual, depending on the type of drug, duration of substance abuse, and the severity of the addiction.

Aging Effects Of Drug Abuse

Many people are aware of the negative effects methamphetamine has on physical appearance. However, smoking illicit drugs of any kind, including cannabis, crack, and heroin often leads to premature aging of the skin and even hair loss.

Drug Abuse Effects On The Skin

Due to the toxicity of these substances, drug use quickly leads to a number of skin conditions.

Drug effects on the skin often include:

  • inflammation
  • dehydrated skin
  • psoriasis
  • sores
  • acne
  • skin cancer

Dry skin is often the cause of well-known sores associated with meth abuse. These sores are often further damaged by picking or removing their slow-healing scabs. Meth users are often left with noticeable scarring.

Injection Drug Use Aging Effects

Heroin and cocaine use may cause many of the premature aging effects caused by meth. Users may appear malnourished or have dry skin with a sunken appearance. Individuals who abuse inject heroin may have skin with track marks, sores, and abscesses.

Long-Term Drug Use Effects

The carcinogens and other free radicals present in street drugs can cause heart disease, mental disorders, damage to the lungs and other organs, often leading to chronic and other life-threatening conditions.

Aging Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is a commonly abused substance that leads to premature aging and damage to the brain and body in several ways. Alcohol can cause dehydration, brain and organ damage, skin changes, bloating, and weight gain.

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol often leads to chemical tolerance of the substance. Eventually, the individual will need to consume more alcohol to achieve the same effects. An increase in alcohol consumption will increase premature aging and may lead to serious health conditions.

Developing Mental Health Disorders And Other Health Issues

Alcohol abuse can lead to the development of mental health disorders and other chronic health problems among the general population, for older people and young adults alike.

Drinking alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to break down and remove harmful substances from the body. Further, alcohol is a high-carbohydrate substance that quickly leads to weight gain. The substance often causes bloating and inflammation.

Alcohol Effects On The Skin

Due to dehydration and alcohol consumption, the skin and body often don’t get the fluids and nutrients it needs to work properly. Dry skin, redness, and puffy complexion is often the result of excessive alcohol intake.

Alcohol also has other negative effects on the brain. Chronic alcohol consumption may cause an overall reduction in brain volume and damage neuronal connections.

Alcohol Effects On The Brain

As a result, heavy drinkers may experience mental dysfunction, including mood disturbances, increased anxiety levels, less ability to concentrate, and cognitive decline.

Scientists conclude that alcohol not only causes these damages to the brain and body, but accelerates many age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Reversing Premature Aging Caused By Drugs And Alcohol

Starting a drug treatment program and stopping substance use is often the first step in reversing premature aging caused by drug addiction or alcohol abuse.

Further, increasing water intake, exercise, and proper nutrition allows the body and brain to resume normal processes that lead to improved health and appearance.

Following the medical advice and recommendations of health care providers and a psychologist during substance abuse treatment will address cosmetic concerns of damage caused by drug use.

Getting Help For Substance Abuse

Effective inpatient and outpatient drug treatment programs for substance abuse are designed to medically support an individual safely through detox and towards rehabilitation.

Addiction treatment helps ensure the addicted individual has access to a network of support services, including necessary mental health treatment and medical support.

Due to the damage and risks caused by alcohol and drug abuse, seeking treatment immediately is recommended. An individual who begins treatment should follow-up with their trusted medical provider to address any and all cosmetic concerns.

Without medical support and intervention, people who abuse toxic substances remain at high risk of experiencing several negative physical and cosmetic effects of drug use. These can include premature aging and other irreversible damage to the brain and body.

If you or a loved one has a drug or alcohol addiction, or if you have questions about the rehab programs available for this substance use disorder, please connect with a specialist through our helpline today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on February 12, 2021

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