Effects of Drug and Alcohol Use on Weight Change

Comprehensive, Evidence-based Guide to Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Weight Gain or Loss

According to the American Psychiatric Association, substance abuse is the excessive use of substances, including alcohol and drugs, that cause an individual to suffer from clinical impairments as well as the dramatic loss of academic, professional, and social skills [1].

Substance abuse also dramatically alters the diet and in most cases, it leads to irregular eating patterns and poor nutrition. As a result, previously healthy adolescents and adults may begin to experience significant health problems shortly after the substance abuse begins.

This guide will describe the negative effects that substance abuse can have on weight and how fluctuations in weight can lead to serious health problems.

Substance abuse affects metabolism

Metabolism refers to the way the body breaks down food and uses it for nutrients and energy. Cells throughout the body must receive adequate amounts of nutrients, including sugar in the form of glucose to use for energy, growth, and repair from damage. Poor diet and nutrition, which often occurs secondarily to substance abuse, can lead to brain damage, organ damage, and different types of diseases [2, 3].

The body cannot store alcohol, so once it is consumed it is quickly broken down to facilitate excretion from the body. Alcohol does not contain any nutrients, but it does contain ‘empty’ calories that often make people feel as if they are full, especially if they consume large quantities of it. Large amounts of alcohol damage the intestinal tract, which then decreases the body’s ability to absorb and utilize vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food that is eaten [4].

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