How Substance Abuse Can Lead to Gastrointestinal Issues.

Substance abuse has serious health consequences for the user. The public is aware of the harm drug users do to relationships and society at large, but they are rarely informed of the precise physiological effects of drugs. Your digestive system is an active network of organs, including your mouth, stomach, intestines, and esophagus. However, GI trauma generated by introducing high quantities of drugs into the system can have long-lasting effects even after drug usage has ceased. To help you get a better understanding of how substance abuse can lead to gastrointestinal issues, we’ve consulted experts in digestive healthcare, and here’s everything you need to know.

Substance abuse and how it can lead to gastrointestinal issues

Substance abuse and addiction are global concerns that can disrupt relationships and negatively affect one’s physical and mental health. There is a growing problem of substance-induced digestive tract impairment among both drug and alcohol addicts. To raise awareness of this ever-increasing issue, here’s more about substance abuse and how it can lead to gastrointestinal issues.

Drunk person lying on the grass with an empty bottle next to him

Both alcohol and substance abuse can lead to gastrointestinal issues.

How does your body process substances?

Damage to the digestive system is not limited to the initial symptoms that may appear but can have far-reaching effects depending on the substance abused and how it was taken. When something is consumed orally, it’s distributed throughout the entire digestive tract and potentially harms each organ that contributes to digestion.

For instance, esophageal, throat, laryngeal, liver, colon, and rectovaginal cancer are all linked to long-term oral alcohol use. If you or your loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, you should consider alcohol rehab treatment to find the help you need. Alcohol rehab treatment is always the best way to heal your body and mind from long-term alcohol abuse.

Remember, even if medications can circumvent some digestive systems, long-term usage still causes harm to the liver and kidneys. Even if heroin is injected straight into a vein, you will still harm the liver and kidneys because blood must pass through them on its way to the rest of the body’s organs for processing.

Stomach pain and substance abuse

Stomach pain brought on by substance abuse can range from irritating to life-threatening, indicating anything from an ulcer to internal bleeding. Therefore, don’t wait too long to reach out to your physician but make sure to address the issues you’re experiencing asap. Many substances can cause nausea and stomach pain. For instance, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, MDMA, ayahuasca, etc. Pain in the stomach after taking a drug could be a sign of gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining that can cause ulcers and bleeding.

Woman sitting on the bed and holding her stomach in pain

Several prescription medications are known to cause nausea and stomach pain.

Stomach pain is also a common symptom of withdrawal. Common opiate withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. While these symptoms may seem minor initially, they can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if they persist until detox. That’s why we highly recommend detox under experienced medical supervision.

Substance abuse and malnourishment

Malnourishment is a widespread issue among alcohol and drug addicts. Therefore, treatment should also address nutritional inadequacies brought on by long-term alcohol and drug abuse. Addiction recovery experts from emphasize the importance of addressing malnourishment issues at the earliest stages of treatment. It’s essential to give the body enough nutrients to recover.

People struggling with substance abuse struggle with malnourishment for many reasons:

  • A person’s eating habits may become disordered if they live a chaotic, disorganized life fueled by drugs and alcohol.
  • Some medicines, such as many stimulants, can reduce a person’s appetite, while others, such as alcohol, can be satiating and substitute for eating.
  • Substances influence what people eat.. For instance, those who abuse cocaine regularly tend to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of a diet high in processed carbs and fat.

The impact of alcohol on the digestive system

As was previously indicated, excessive and long-term alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing various types of cancer, including many gastrointestinal cancers. Unfortunately, substance abuse can lead to gastrointestinal issues for multiple reasons:

  • Ethanol in alcoholic beverages metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which is a probable human carcinogen and DNA-damaging agent.
  • Alcohol hinders the metabolism of several essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, and E, folate, and carotenoids.
  • Breast cancer risks are raised by alcohol drinking because of the disruption of hormone balance, particularly estrogen.
  • Alcohol itself may contain asbestos fibers, hydrocarbons, or nitrosamines, all of which have been linked to cancer.

The impact of stimulants on the digestive system

Stimulants such as cocaine or MDMA can cause serious harm to the digestive tract. Here are just some of the examples:

  • Cocaine usage results in reduced blood supply to the digestive system, which can lead to tissue death in the intestines and stomach (a condition known as “ischemia”).
  • Methamphetamine is associated with a host of digestive issues, tooth decay, bowel irregularities, and cramps are examples.
  • When on stimulants, the last thing on people’s minds is taking good care of their guts. Therefore, abrupt suppression of the appetite, which can lead to malnutrition and weight loss, is a common side effect of stimulant medication use.

The impact of opioids on the digestive system

Several legal pain relievers fall within the category of opiate medicines, as do some illegal ones like heroin. Opioids are available in pill form, swallowed orally, smoked or snorted forms. A lot of people choose to inject them straight into a vein.

Pile of colorful pills

As opioids cause a variety of issues with the digestive system, a new medical condition – opioid-induced bowel dysfunction – has been created.

The wide variety of GI problems that opioids cause, a medical condition known as opioid-induced bowel dysfunction (OIBD) accounts for the potentially debilitating effects of long-term opioid usage. The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Also, as the stomach may not empty as quickly, heartburn, cramps, and bloating can occur, too.

Final thoughts

As you can see, even short-term alcohol and substance abuse can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Although many of them are not alarming at first, they could quickly evolve into life-threatening problems if not addressed. Therefore, if you or anyone you know is struggling, seek the help of addiction recovery experts to help you get your life back on track.

Ready to schedule your Colonoscopy in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati?  Tri-State Gastroenterology Associates is a physician-owned and independent practice founded in 1982. Our team of Top Doctors, nurses, and medical assistants live in this community and care for this community. We serve patients living in the Tri-State Area and are in the network with most insurance plans.

It is our mission “To provide compassionate, high quality, cost-effective care to patients with gastrointestinal related problems.”