There are 10 major organ systems in the human body, and unsurprisingly, drug and alcohol abuse affects each of them negatively. When one or more of these organs are damaged, you risk serious chronic conditions and death. Below is a short synopsis of what happens to major organs when alcohol and drugs are abused.
(Bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments)
Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and utilize calcium, which results in weakened and fragile bones. This means you are more prone to injuries and more susceptible to osteoporosis.
Muscular System Organs
(Skeletal muscles and smooth muscles throughout the body)
Alcohol and drugs can slow muscle movement and impair muscle coordination. Over a prolonged period of time, substance abuse reduces muscle mass and puts you at risk for developing Rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which the muscle fibers of the body breakdown and enter your bloodstream. This can result in severe kidney damage and, in some cases, kidney failure.
Circulatory/Cardiovascular System Organs
(Heart, blood vessels, and blood)
Alcohol and drugs tax the heart considerably. This can cause several chronic heart conditions including high blood pressure, deteriorated heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), and an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). High blood pressure can cause hormonal irregularities and strokes. Deterioration of the heart muscle reduced blood flow, which can interfere with your daily life and puts you at higher risk for heart attacks. Drug and alcohol abuse also interferes with blood clotting, causes anemia, and contribute to cirrhosis of the liver.
Nervous System Organs
(Brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves)
Alcohol and drugs affects how a person moves, perceives, thinks, and feels. Alcohol acts as a depressant over the entire system, and slows your ability to process information and how your body performs its basic functions. Drugs interfere with the nervous system’s ability to regulate your mood, thinking, and coordination of bodily functions. Most people abuse drugs and alcohol because of how they immediately affect the nervous system by altering their moods. This comes at a steep price, however; drug and alcohol abuse jeopardizes the main organ system that all other organs rely upon. Sustained substance abuse causes irreversible brain damage, which can manifest as memory loss and personality changes.
Respiratory System Organs
(Nose, trachea, and lungs)
The respiratory system is responsible for delivering oxygen to your body. Both alcohol and drug abuse interfere with this process by depressing or slowing the breath. When breathing is slowed, it can lead to respiratory failure depriving your lungs of essential oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can result in brain damage or death. Depending on your drug of choice, you also risk suffocation, choking, cancer, and other lung diseases.
Digestive System Organs
(Mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, small and large intestines)
Drug and alcohol abuse can cause weight gain or loss and make you more susceptible to ulcers and gallstones. It interferes with the metabolic processes that allow nutrients into your body. This opens the door to more serious diseases such as stomach, esophageal, mouth, throat, and other cancers as well as cirrhosis of the liver.
Excretory System Organs
(Kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra)
Your excretory system removes excess materials from your body. Blood and alcohol abuse can interfere with the elimination of these unnecessary elements by causing constipation, diarrhea, and fluctuations in urination. If these byproducts are not eliminated from your system, this can lead to infection and sepsis. Conversely, if things are being removed from your body too quickly you can become dehydrated or malnourished. More serious complications include kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and organ damage or failure as a result of sepsis. If left untreated, sepsis can result in death.
Endocrine System Organs
(Glands such as hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal)
In many ways, the endocrine system is considered a “second nervous system” because it regulates hormones that allow the various regions of the body to communicate. Alcohol and drug abuse can impair the production and secretion of these hormones. For example, by blocking the absorption of calcium in the body, osteoporosis or brittle bones can occur. Some other complications that can result are a compromised immune system, erectile dysfunction due to lower testosterone, and cardiovascular abnormalities due to glucose and lipid imbalance.
Reproductive System Organs
(Female: ovaries, oviducts, uterus, vagina, and mammary glands. Male: testes, seminal vesicles, and penis)
Drug and alcohol abuse can affect the production and processing of reproductive hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. For men, this may cause breast enlargement, testicular shrinkage, and impotence. For women, drug and alcohol abuse can lead to a decreased sex drive and menstrual irregularities. Both male and female substance abusers risk infertility and sexual dysfunction.
Lymphatic/Immune System Organs
(Lymph, lymph nodes and vessels, white blood cells, T- and B- cells)
Your immune system is responsible for protecting your body against infection and disease. Simply put, drug and alcohol abuse compromises your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to infections, viruses and serious diseases.