Quitting Drugs: Effects & Treatment Process

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson we'll explain what drug use is and how it can negatively affect the individual and society. We'll also go over the benefits of a drug-free life and the main types of treatments that can help a person overcome drug use and addiction.

Effects of Drug Use

Picture a different version of yourself, one which is sneaking around, lying to friends and family, and irresponsibly neglecting work or school. As a great student like yourself, this probably seems impossible. How could someone ever make such poor choices?

When people become addicted to drugs, everything they care about goes out the window. Many drug addicts' lives revolve solely around obtaining and using more drugs. However, this doesn't happen in an instant. Often, people are prescribed drugs for a valid medical reason, or they start using them during an especially difficult time in their life. Soon, the drug takes hold and biologically, the user's brain becomes dependent on the drug. Eventually, patients can't function normally without the drug and physical dependence sets in.

Benefits of Quitting Drugs

Quitting drugs can be a very challenging step to take, but worth it in the end. Let's look at some of the benefits to quitting drugs to the individual, their families, and society before we talk about the treatment.

Consequences of Drug Use and Benefits of Quitting for Individuals

Drugs have physical, emotional, and financial consequences for the individual using them. Drugs work by altering chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters which allow brain cells, also known as neurons, to communicate with each other. Different drugs affect neurotransmitters in different ways, such as increasing or decreasing levels of a particular neurotransmitter. Since neurotransmitters are so important in the brain, messing with their levels can cause damage to the brain.


When a person stops taking the drugs, the brain usually recovers after a few weeks and resumes normal function. However, some drugs, like MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), cause death to particular neurons in the brain that use a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Neurons die from MDMA use and never make more of themselves. This creates lesions in the brain that never repair.

Image of serotonin neurons in purple in a normal brain and then two weeks and seven years after stopping drug use
neuronal death

Different drugs cause different types of damage to the body. For example, drugs that are smoked can damage the lungs. Although it can take years to reverse the effects, if a user stops smoking drugs, eventually, the lungs and cardiovascular system will begin to heal. Intravenous drugs like heroin also bring the risk of acquiring infections like HIV and hepatitis B. Stopping injections eliminates this risk.

Drugs are also a financial burden. When a person becomes both physically and mentally addicted to drugs, all of their money will be funneled into obtaining the drug. They may even steal or commit crimes to get money for drugs. After quitting drugs, these behaviors are no longer necessary and financial stability can be achieved again.

Family Benefits of a Drug-Free Life

Once people stop using drugs, they can resume healthy relationships and develop positive coping skills for the emotional problems that may have fueled the drug use in the first place. When people are using drugs, they often isolate themselves from family members in order to hide their drug problem. Although emotional damage often occurs when a family member is using drugs, the relationships can be repaired through therapy when the person is sober.

Societal Benefits of a Drug-Free Life

Although we usually think of drug addiction as a personal problem for individual users, there are larger costs to society as well. Over 500,000 emergency room visits per year are due to drug use. Some patients might have private health insurance, but others do not, creating a financial burden on hospitals and government insurance programs. Decreasing drug use can reduce these health care costs.

Drug-related crimes are also responsible for nearly a third of the growth in the prison population, a costly consequence for taxpayers. Drug-related crimes also impact the communities they occur in. Violence follows the drug trade wherever it goes. Less drug use means less drug trafficking, a decrease in drug-related crime, and fewer incarcerations.

One trillion dollars have been spent on drug-related arrests and incarcerations in the United States
utah state prison


There are two main types of treatments for drug addiction, medical and behavioral treatments. These methods work best when used together.

Medical Treatments

Medical treatments include assisted detox programs and drug therapy to decrease withdrawal symptoms. Drug detox programs ease withdrawal symptoms, preventing complications that can arise from quitting cold turkey. Patients with mild withdrawal symptoms can participate in an outpatient program in which they see a doctor, but still live at home and take their medication on their own.

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