Our bodies respond to the things that we put in (and on) them. Doctors and nutritionists have been telling us for years that certain foods, drinks, and lifestyles can age you dramatically.
It’s also a widely accepted truth that drug use ages you. (Who hasn’t seen the before and after pictures of those who use meth, for example?) The precise aging effects of meth and other drugs of abuse may be less-known, though. For example, does cocaine age you? In this article, we’ll dive into how drugs age you, which ones cause the most severe changes, and what you might be able to do to limit or even reverse the effects.
How Do Drugs Make You Age Faster?
When we talk about aging, we are often referring to the visible changes that come with getting older, like looser skin and changes in hair color. But aging is much more than just wrinkles and gray hair. It’s something that affects one’s entire system, starting from the cellular level. Sometimes, the things we eat, drink, or otherwise insert into our bodies cause symptoms similar to aging or outright speed up the aging process.
Experts have identified several different substance use-related factors that contribute to quicker aging. These include:
- Changes in dopamine systems, resulting in riskier behaviors
- Neuroinflammation, meaning swelling in areas like the brain and spinal cord
- Greater sensitivity to stress
- Cardiovascular changes, including a higher risk of stroke or heart attack
- Pulmonary issues, which cause symptoms like fainting, shortness of breath, and chest pain
- Metabolic changes, including dramatic weight loss or gain
- Circadian changes, such as fatigue or insomnia
- Weakening immune system
To further explain, substance use and addiction alter the brain’s pleasure and reward systems, encouraging people to engage in riskier behaviors to find drugs and activate their pleasure centers. Often, this means that people who use drugs tend to skip meals, eat lower-quality food, sleep poorly, lack exercise, and have higher stress levels. All of these lifestyle factors speed up aging, but it all begins with a drug rewiring the brain.
Many substances also directly affect a person’s physical appearance, causing them to look much older than they actually are. Drug use weakens the immune system, making a person far more vulnerable to even simple illnesses like the common cold. Over time, frequent infections and diseases can cause long-term damage.
The Aging Effects of Different Drugs
Do effects change with different drugs? What drugs make you age faster? Drugs like meth tend to have the most prominent effects, but all substances can cause major issues over time, starting with alcohol.
As far as substances go, alcohol is a widely accepted and consumed choice. However, this doesn’t mean that it is safe for your body or that it won’t age you prematurely. Alcohol can deplete vitamin A and collagen levels, resulting in premature wrinkles. It also acts as a diuretic and encourages dehydration, which can make the skin dry and wrinkly.
Another more socially acceptable substance, tobacco can cause a massive amount of damage to the body. Regardless of its form, tobacco use has links to major inflammation. This means it not only ages the body but may also contribute to life-threatening conditions and major neurological disorders.
Though marijuana has found widespread use in the medical community, it still has its fair share of issues. For example, some researchers found that long-term cannabis usage encouraged hardening of the arteries, which causes major organ damage and accelerates aging.
Stimulants are drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines, which provide massive energy boosts that can keep people up for days. However, skipping sleep causes irreparable damage at a cellular level. Meth also triggers tooth decay and unhealthy weight loss, both of which contribute to an “aged” appearance. Many people who use meth experience a sensation that their skin is crawling while using meth, causing them to pick and scratch at their skin. This, along with a weaker immune system, leads to permanent scarring and the development of serious scabbing and breakouts—all of which make a person look much older.
Studies show that cocaine speeds up the loss of gray matter in the brain. Normally, this loss of gray matter occurs as we age and is one of the reasons for memory loss and drops in cognitive abilities in older adults. Basically, cocaine ages the brain twice as quickly.
Organ Damage and Aging
As we’ve already touched on, drug use can either lead to or directly cause organ damage. Some substances trigger complications in the respiratory system, leading to the body’s organs not having enough oxygen. The organs become weaker, less functional, and may even undergo tissue death.
Stimulants can enlarge the blood vessels, triggering chest pain and shortness of breath. Over time, this weakens the blood vessels and damages the heart, resulting in aneurysms, heart attacks, and death.
Additionally, when a person uses drugs, their liver has to work overtime to detoxify the body. This means that the organ produces more free radicals than the body’s antioxidants can handle. Modern scientists believe that free radicals are one of the biggest contributors to cellular aging because they attack everything from your fatty tissue to your DNA and proteins. The damage then leads to major conditions like diabetes, heart disease, neurological issues, and many other age-related diseases.
Can You Reverse Drug-Related Aging
At the core of the issue, long-term drug use ages your body on nearly every level, and even short-term drug use can cause major changes. The cellular and organ damage from frequent substance use is largely permanent. However, the body is surprisingly resilient and you can still reverse some of the signs of “aging” with some pretty simple lifestyle adjustments. Note that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
- Avoid drugs and other substances
- Drink plenty of water and fluids to fight dehydration
- Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients
- Get plenty of sleep
- Find ways to de-stress that don’t involve drug use
- Exercise regularly
Ask For Help
Over 37 million people in the U.S. alone have used an illicit substance in the last 30 days. An even greater number drink alcohol or smoke regularly. This is a widespread issue that many people deal with. When it comes to fighting the effects of drug use, knowing you’re not alone and reaching out for help is one of the best things you can do.
At FHE Health, our professionals have decades of experience helping people with substance use disorders, as well as their loved ones. If you’re worried about drug use or its effects, contact us today for a free consultation.