Substance Abuse & Weight Loss

Substance Abuse & Weight Loss

The use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed is referred as Substance Abuse or drug abuse.

Drugs often affect people differently, but the harmful side effects that most drugs cause may lead to irreversible health problems, damage and in some cases, death.

Weight loss is a possible side effect of many drugs and can result from the lifestyle involved in drug abuse. Too much weight loss can lead to malnutrition and other health problems. Understanding the link between weight loss and drug abuse allows drug abusers and their loved ones to recognize the signs sooner for a better outcome.

The Effects of Substance Abuse on Weight

Recreational, illicit, and prescription medication all influence various mental processes. Certain drugs may cause temporary cognitive impairments after taking just a single dose.

Signs of abuse include, a person may forgetting to eat properly, lose weight and develop dangerously low blood sugar. Individuals who begin to abuse drugs may eventually suffer from permanent impairments in brain activity as well as physical changes that lead to dramatic weight loss and poor health.

The drugs can be broadly categorized as

  • Depressants: Alcohol, marijuana (cannabis) and opiates such as morphine, codeine, heroin, methadone, hydrocodone (e.g. Lortab, Norco) and oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin) are all categorized here as depressants.
  • Stimulants:  Codeine, morphine, methadone, Hydrocodone and OxyContin are all opiates that can be prescribed by a physician to treat intense pain or certain painful conditions (e.g., cancer)
  • Hallucinogens: Drugs that cause hallucinations. Users see images, hear sounds and feel sensations that seem very real but do not exist. Some hallucinogens also produce sudden and unpredictable changes in the mood of those who use them. PCP, LSD, ketamine and magic mushrooms all have the potential to elicit hallucinations or powerful dissociative experiences.


Substance Abuse & Weight LossDrug abuse alters the mind and body in ways that make it almost impossible to maintain a healthy diet. Poor nutrition leads to serious health problems, and many diseases that may develop secondarily due to drug abuse also have associated weight changes.

Losing significant amounts of weight may result in unhealthy overeating to circumvent feelings of hungerr or distress regarding the weight loss. Repeated starvation, which may result due to drug seeking behavior and other changes in mental processes that often occur concurrently with substance abuse, leads to the release of neurotransmitters that allow people to eat well beyond the satiation point by overriding their feelings of hunger.


High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, kidney disease, respiratory problems, cancer and osteoarthritis are among the many long-term health problems that may develop due to weight gain that is concurrent with substance abuse.

Role of Exercise in Fighting Substance Abuse

Individuals who engage in regular aerobic exercise are less likely to use and abuse illicit drugs, has been published by a research on, Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse: Evidence from Preclinical Studies.

The use of yoga can also help break  and overcome addiction patterns is growing. Body centred treatments such as yoga, acupuncture and massage; along with traditional therapy can help overcome substance abuse.


It has been observed that, aerobic exercise is inversely related to substance use and abuse. The inverse relationship between aerobic exercise and substance use may be attributed to three possible factors.

Substance Abuse & Weight Loss

  1. Exercise could lead to a causal decrease in substance use, either by serving as an alternative, non-drug reinforcer, or by producing functional neuroadaptations that influence an individual’s susceptibility to developing a substance use disorder.
  2. Substance use could lead to a causal decrease in exercise, either by reducing discretionary time/income that would otherwise be spent on recreational activities or by decreasing aerobic capacity to limit an individual’s ability to engage in exercise.
  3. An external factor could have a causal impact on both activities, such as an underlying personality trait or an influence from the individual’s home environment.

A 2009 study in Pathophysiology Journal showed treadmill exercise reduced morphine use in male rats. And in 2011, a study in the journal Current Neuropharmacology demonstrated animals’ preference for saline over amphetamines when they exercised. Besides, physical activity helps increase levels of dopamine in the brain, a chemical that’s associated with feelings of pleasure, which is often diminished over time by substance abuse.

These results conclude that a practice of regular physical activity may help in prevent and overcome addiction.


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The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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