What does substance abuse have to do with your looks?
If you are like most people, you are probably aware of the potential health hazards associated with chronic heavy drinking and drug use – overdose, disease, mental illness, etc. However, what you may NOT know is how addiction drastically alters your appearance, sometimes PERMANENTLY.
As Deputy Brett King, of the Multnomah County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Department says about habitual drug users he has come across, “Some were quite attractive when they began to come to jail: young people who were full of the health and had everything going for them … and now they’re a shell of what they once were.
Substance Abuse and Your Personal Hygiene
“The unfortunate truth is that the majority of addicts are so consumed by the drug and the need to get high that they don’t care about their physical appearance…”
~ Shane SantaCroce, speaking to Cosmopolitan
When an addiction has deepened, the stereotype that addicts are dirty and smelly starts to morph into the truth. When your brain has been hijacked to ONLY care about acquiring and using drugs, other needs—such as personal hygiene—don’t seem to matter as much.
Showering, putting on deodorant, brushing and flossing your teeth, and combing your hair are not priorities when you are chasing that next drink or that next high.
Look at it this way – when an addict is NOT high, they are TRYING to get high. And when they ARE high, there’s no motivation to do anything else, because the compulsion has been temporarily satisfied.
Other ways that substance abuse affects good personal hygiene:
- Some drug abusers INTENTIONALLY skip showering because they believe that it will interfere with their high and sober them up.
- Stimulant drugs such as meth or Ecstasy cause both excessive sweating and increased sexual desire. When combined with a lack of bathing, the result is a recipe for unpleasantness.
- When substances aren’t available and the person experiences withdrawal, common symptoms include:
- Profuse sweating
- When addiction has led to homelessness, even the most basic hygiene tasks are difficult.
Substance Abuse and Your Overall Health
Your general health is the biggest factor in determining whether or not you look your absolute best. But drug abuse and excessive drinking can undermine your health in many ways:
- Dehydration—Any beauty expert will tell you that hydration is key. However, alcohol consumption interferes with the hormones that regulate proper hydration. Considering that most people who abuse drugs—including 90% of stimulant users—also misuse alcohol, dehydration is a real concern.
- Poor nutrition
- Vitamin and Mineral Depletion
Substance Abuse and Your Hair
Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with poor hair health and even hair loss in both sexes. Poor hair health includes lack of shine, brittleness, and inadequate growth.
Alcohol-related hair loss and damage is due to:
- Elevated estrogen levels
- Lower zinc levels
- Depleted Vitamins B and C
- Loss of folic acid
- Poor diet
In addition, an addiction-driven life is chaotic and stressful. Stress causes hair loss in three ways:
- Telogen Effluvium—Shedding due to prematurely-“resting” hair follicles.
- Alopecia Areata—When the immune system attacks the hair follicles on the scalp, resulting in patchy hair.
- Trichotillomania—The uncontrollable urge to pull out one’s hair.
Substance Abuse and Your Skin
The neglect, poor nutrition, dehydration, and lack of hygiene associated with substance abuse each have a serious negative impact on the health of your skin. Common substance-related skin problems and causes include:
- Flaky or dry skin—Dehydration and the toxins found in many unregulated illegal drugs
- Chapped lips—Dehydration and corrosive drugs
- Blotches—Malnutrition and lack of sleep
- Dark spots/Bruising—Poor circulation and trauma
- Keloid scars—Repeated IV drug use
- Abscesses—Infected injection sites
- Scaly or rotted flesh—Toxic drugs such as Krokodil
- Rashes—Allergic reactions
- Acne—Buildup of bacteria
- Burns—Overheated pipes
- Scratches—Opioid-induced itching
- Sores—Obsessive picking associated with methamphetamine abuse
- Wrinkling—Rapid, unhealthy weight loss
- Premature aging—Smoke
- Loss of elasticity—Poor nutrition and toxins
- Sagging—Muscular deterioration
- Sallow complexion —Hepatitis C
Substance Abuse and Your Weight
A rapid change in weight is one of the most easily-identifiable signs of addiction.
Drug-related weight loss is a typical side-effect of stimulant abuse—methamphetamines, cocaine, Ecstasy, and ADHD medications like Adderall or Ritalin fall into this category.
Simulant abusers lose weight because they have increased energy and a greatly-diminished appetite. In fact, a stimulant addict consumes 80% fewer calories, on average. There are even reports of meth users dying of anorexia.
Alcoholism is also associated with unhealthy weight loss. This is primarily because drinking can interfere with your body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. Long-term heavy drinking also inflames digestive organs. Over a third of all pancreatitis cases are because of chronic alcohol abuse, resulting in malnutrition and rapid weight loss.
On the other hand, alcohol abuse and early-stage alcoholism often results in weight GAIN, due to the fact that alcohol stimulates the appetite. The typical drinker will consume 30% more calories than non-drinkers.
The abuse of opioids such as prescription pain pills or heroin can also lead to weight gain. There are three main reasons why this is the case.
- Opioids are depressants, and addicts tend to live very sedentary lives.
- Opioid abusers show a strong preference for and significantly-increased consumption of sugary foods, while at the same time eating less fruit, vegetables, or complex carbohydrates.
In fact, one study determined that methadone patients receive 31% of their caloric intake from sugar.
Additionally, a 13-year analysis of the autopsies of Swedish IV drug users found that 36% of heroin abusers and 43% of methadone patients were overweight.
Substance Abuse and Your Muscles
Long-term substance abuse has a profound negative effect on your musculature. Deterioration or damage to your muscles severely compromises both appearance and performance.
Chronic heavy drinking causes the most damage.
- The American Physiology Society has published research indicating that two-thirds of alcohol abusers suffer from atrophy of the skeletal muscles.
- Alcoholism leads to muscle weakness and wasting by interfering with mitochondrial self-repair by as much as 50%.
- Alcoholic myopathy—alcohol-induced muscle weakness and atrophy—can be acute, after an episode of binge-drinking, or chronic, after years of heavy alcohol abuse.
- Alcohol misuse alters the muscles’ signaling pathways, contributing to later atrophy.
Rhabdomyolysis is a condition where damaged muscle tissue breaks down rapidly, often leading to kidney damage or even failure. Substances that can contribute to this condition include:
Substance Abuse and Your Bones
Your skeletal system supports your entire ability to function in a healthy and active manner. When chronic drug and alcohol use leads to poor bone health or damage, it seriously affects your posture, your appearance, and even your movement.
Some of the conditions and addiction-related causes of skeletal problems include:
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)—IV drug use with dirty needles or contaminated drugs
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder—Constant jaw-clinching associated with stimulant abuse
- Arthritis—Malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and stress
- Spinal problems—Weakened supporting muscles due to opioid or stimulant abuse.
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone density)—Malnutrition. In one study, over 75% of methadone patients met the criteria for osteoporosis or its precursor condition, osteopenia.
Of special relevance, bone loss is more severe among those who have contracted HIV or AIDS.
Why is this significant?
- 1 out of 4 HIV/AIDS engaged in binge-drinking within the last 30 days.
- Nearly 1 in 3 used an illegal drug.
- 10% of HIV/AIDS cases are due to IV drug use.
- 1 in 6 HIV/AIDS patients have used illegal drugs intravenously.
- Methamphetamine users are particularly at-risk of contracting HIV.
Substance Abuse and Your Smile
The damaging effects of chronic alcohol and drug abuse are particularly visible when it comes to your smile. While different substances have varying effects on other aspects of your appearance, almost EVERY recreational intoxicant has the potential to steal your smile.
- Irritates the mouth’s soft tissues.
- Reduces saliva production. Saliva is essential for good oral health, because it washes away bacteria and food particles.
- Cocktails are often high in sugar.
- Young adults and teenagers who are heavy marijuana smokers have a 60% greater chance of developing early-onset gum disease by age 32 than those youths who have never used marijuana.
- Reduces saliva production.
- Increased craving for and consumption of sugar-laden foods and drinks.
- Compulsive teeth grinding.
- Dry mouth.
- Compulsive teeth grinding.
- When cocaine mixes with saliva, it becomes so acidic that it damages your teeth’s enamel.
- 99% of users experience extreme dry mouth – lasting up to 48 hours.
- For some as-yet undetermined reason, female ecstasy users are at greater risk of dry mouth.
- Compulsive teeth grinding.
- Vomiting – stomach acid is corrosive and can damage your teeth.
- Dry mouth
- Compulsive teeth grinding.
- Jaw clenching.
- Caustic to teeth, gums, and the tongue.
- A constant craving for sugary soft drinks.
The horrifying damage to your teeth caused by methamphetamines even has a name—“meth mouth”. 31% of meth addicts have missing teeth and 96% have cavities.
Substance Abuse and Your Complete Appearance
When you look at before-and-after-pictures that show the progressive effects that substance abuse has on a person’s appearance, it paints a graphic and devastating picture.
- Hair—dirty, dull, damaged, uncombed, missing
- Eyes—sunken, unfocused, bloodshot
- Skin—acne, sores, infections, weathering, discoloration, jaundice, sagging, premature aging
- Nose—perforated septum
- Lips—dry, chapped, burn scars
- Teeth—discoloration, cavities, broken and/or missing teeth, gum infections, bad breath, sunken jawline
- Neck—IV track marks
- Frame—Noticeable unhealthy weight loss or gain
- Muscle wasting
- Poor posture
- Body odor
- Clothes—dirty, stained, torn, ill-fitting
- Arms, hands, legs, feet—track marks, keloids, sores
What’s the Bottom Line?
The disease of addiction is selfish and destructive. When it changes your appearance, the damage is far more than merely cosmetic. Within a very short time—and much faster than you realize—it also robs you of your health, your relationships, your money, your home, your freedom, your self-respect.
In a very real way, the effect that substance abuse has on your looks is only an outward manifestation of the havoc it is wreaking in every other area of your life.
But there IS good news—with abstinence and time, you CAN recover. Healing and a return to health is possible, especially if you participate in a comprehensive treatment program that addresses the disease of addiction on multiple levels.
How does that help?
- Drug and alcohol detox lets you get the drugs out of your system and helps you manage withdrawal symptoms.
- Nutritional guidance helps you to eat healthily and replace the nutrients you lost during active addiction.
- Exercise and yoga restores your strength, improves your posture, and gets you closer to a healthy weight.
- Stress reduction techniques teach you how to deal with unhealthy stress.
- Medical treatment addresses any other health problems.
It’s a wonderful and positive cycle. As you progress in treatment, your health and looks will improve. And when you look in the mirror and SEE yourself getting better, you’ll FEEL better about your recovery and work even harder.