How Substance Use Can Impact You

How Substance Use Can Impact You

Photo by Maria das Dores on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 6/18/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

Although substance use can sometimes be closely related to our peer group and our preferred method of socializing, there can be a stigma on substance use from external individuals. We all feel the need to numb our emotions through a glass of wine, and substance use can be an effective coping mechanism if used wisely and sparingly.

However, using substances wisely almost never happens due to the addictive nature of substances that’s beyond our control. In addition, many start using substances at a younger age when long-term impacts are not carefully considered. For example, according to research, 90% of smokers began smoking before 18 years.

The most common type of substance use is linked to tobacco. In fact, over 40 million people use tobacco on a regular basis. Next on the list is alcohol and marijuana, with a user base of 18 million and 4.2 million, respectively.

What is Substance Use and Substance Abuse?

Substance use disorder is defined as “a problematic pattern of using alcohol or another substance that results in impairment in daily life or noticeable distress.”

Using substances may not necessarily mean that you are diagnosed with substance use disorder. As long as there is no “impairment in daily life or noticeable distress,” you have nothing to worry about. But the concern is whether you can maintain zero impairment in your life as you get used to taking substances more frequently.

There is a fine line between substance use and misuse. Research confirms that using the word “abuse” instead of “use” attributes negativity to people using substances. Therefore, the term “substance abuse” is slowly becoming irrelevant in the medical world.

Substance Use Risk Factors

Many factors can decide how easily your substance use can become unhealthy for you.

Biological factors affecting your substance use are:

  • Genetics
  • Sensitivity to drugs
  • Mental illness
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity

Environmental factors can also determine your risk of substance use.

  • Family environment
  • Social and other stressors
  • Performance at work or school
  • Peer influence
  • Accessibility of substances

How Substance Use Impacts You

1. Overall Health

How does substance use affect the brain? Mind-altering drugs can either slow down or speed up the central nervous system. A slowdown of the nervous system can decrease blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and body temperature, providing your body with temporary rest.

But on the other hand, substance use can cause lasting damage to your body. For instance, alcohol usage is connected to many diseases like stroke, high blood pressure, fibrosis, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and many types of cancers.

2. Surgery Outcomes

When you are recovering from surgery, you may feel extreme pain in the surgical site. The pain will accentuate when pain killers start to wear off. You may resort to using a controlled dose of substances during surgery recovery, especially if you have to numb the pain in order to fulfill everyday obligations.

However, at the same time, please keep in mind that substances compromise your immunity, resulting in prolonged postoperative recovery of surgical wounds, incisions, and internal organs that were subjected to surgery.

3. Mental Health

Mental illness can be a factor that increases the risk of using substances. On the other hand, substances can give you a respite from intense emotions, especially if you’re grieving or going through a difficult time.

In the long term, substance use can escalate the risk for mental illness because continued use of substances can result in a breakdown of relationships, problems at workplaces, and financial difficulties. These conditions can make one highly stressed and anxious.

4. Longevity

According to research, the life expectancy of men and women with mental disorders can be shorter by 10 and 7 years, respectively, compared with the general population. The long-term impact of substance use on mental health can therefore lower life expectancy as well.

5. Life Satisfaction

Mental health significantly impacts one’s satisfaction with life. Research confirms that those with “poor self-rated mental health” are more dissatisfied with life in general. With an unhealthy dependence on substances, one’s mental health can suffer, along with overall life satisfaction.


If you use substances to cope with challenges, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Please reach out for professional help if you feel like your coping mechanism is harming you and adversely impacting your day-to-day functions. With a mental health professional, you can work on the underlying conditions that are driving you towards substances

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