How Substance Use Affects Health and Chronic Conditions

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  • 0:01 Substance Use
  • 0:56 Smoking
  • 2:57 Alcohol
  • 4:53 Drugs
  • 6:16 Worth Including
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

While not every substance and every chronic condition can be covered in a single lesson, we attempt to look at the most common types (alcohol and smoking), as well as some generalizations about illegal substances.

Substance Use

We live in a very odd time. Right now, there are transitions in the penal code that are making substances more available. Several states in the United States are moving to legalize marijuana; several countries around the world are moving to legalize many more substances. Researchers are now searching for answers as to how taking these substances will affect people with health and chronic conditions.

A chronic disease, sometimes referred to as a chronic condition, is a condition that develops more slowly and typically worsens over time. We can't cover every single interaction between chronic conditions and every type of drug in one lesson, partially because we don't know all of the information. Instead, we will look at some of the more popular substances and attempt to generalize the negative features that can occur, so that we can plug in multiple chronic conditions.


When we talk about smoking, we mean smoking tobacco. This is the most common way it is consumed and is still very popular to this day. If I can give my opinion here, which I can since no one can stop me, I never understood smoking. Lighting a plant on fire with the sole purpose of inhaling dangerous chemicals, like nicotine, it just never made sense. But then again, a lot of self-destructive behaviors don't.

Because smoking has been around for so long, is so popular and is not illegal, there has been a great deal of research on it. This means, instead of giving you vague guidelines like I said in the beginning, we can actually link certain conditions to smoking. Smoking damages the lungs and decreases oxygen levels. This is because, one, you're inhaling burning tar, and two, the tar is poisoning you. It's kind of a double whammy.

Smoking can affect bone health. Who knew that inhaling toxins that go into your bloodstream via the lungs would be bad for your body? This means big problems for people who will have bone issues later in life, such as osteoporosis. Smoking is linked to various forms of arthritis. This is the condition where the joints inflame, break down and begin to hurt like crazy. Just like the bones, when you inhale smoke, part of it goes from the lungs to the bloodstream. If you think about it, smoking kind of pokes holes in your body so that all the good stuff leaks out.

Smoking is actually at the source of several types of specific chronic conditions. Several types of cancers, like that of the jaw, throat and lungs, are all traceable to tobacco. Heart disease, which includes strokes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, have all been linked to smoking because a person is inhaling a toxin. So, in addition to making chronic conditions worse, smoking is actually the cause of several chronic conditions.


Enough about smoking; we know it's bad, and it only gets worse. What about alcohol?

Alcohol is not good for the body either. While it isn't a pesticide you're consuming like tobacco, it is a waste byproduct of yeast. It's kind of like drinking yeast's urine. Let's just take a moment to let that sink in. Regardless of the type of alcohol, the ethanol in it is a waste byproduct of the bacteria used to ferment it. So, when I refer to alcohol as a poison, the alcohol in beer, wine, sake or whatever else is effectively a poison.

Alcohol, like smoking, is both an enhancer and source of numerous conditions. Starting off simple, alcohol has been linked to liver disease. No real surprise there if you've ever been part of an anti-drug campaign. The reason this happens is that alcohol is metabolized in the liver. By releasing certain enzymes, the liver is able to break down alcohol into sugars. But by doing this, it creates other harmful chemicals.

Alcohol has been linked to heart disease, which is a very bad thing. Again, alcohol is a toxin that damages cells. What's worse is alcohol has been linked to high blood pressure due to stressing the system and messing up the chemical balances. This is the one-two punch. Heart disease is bad; it's linked to all kinds of things, like strokes and heart failure. It is made worse by high blood pressure. So, to have one thing do both means you are quickly increasing the chances of death.

Alcohol has been linked to cancer. This one surprises people sometimes. Stomach and GI cancers, which is a fancy term for your guts, are commonly found in people who drink a lot of alcohol. The ethanol alcohol in alcoholic drinks is like a bad driver through a person's entire system, crashing into everything until it blows up in the liver. This is a metaphor but fairly accurate.

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