Drug abuse has multiple negative effects on the body, from teeth and skin disorders to memory impairment to weakened immune system to heart failure. While many of these conditions develop over time, the acute effects of drug use prove just as dangerous, if not more so, than the chronic conditions of abuse. Every time an individual uses a substance, it has an immediate effect on many processes of the body, but has an especially significant impact on the brain, which effects motor skills.
Motor Skill Impairment
Everyone has undoubtedly seen the portrayal of a drunk or high character on a TV show or in a movie. Often, the actor demonstrates this impaired state by stumbling, slumping, running into people, and slurring speech. This portrayal is largely accurate.
The use of substances disrupts neurotransmission in the brain, making it harder for your body and your brain to communicate. That’s why people who have had too much to drink have difficulty standing, walking, and completing other activity that requires the brain and body to coordinate, from signing their name to the bar tab to having sex.
Dangers of Impairment
The likelihood of falling down stairs, walking into traffic, and having other careless accidents unsurprisingly increases when an individual is impaired by a substance. Another major category in which the impact of drugs or alcohol on the motor skills plays a significant role is in impaired driving. While part of driving impairment is caused by a reduction in cognitive function, causing drivers to process information that they see on the road more slowly and ineffectively and making it more difficult for drivers to make good decisions while driving, the impact on the motor skills also comes into play in accidents and arrests from impaired driving.
It is the decrease in motor skill function that causes drivers under the influence to swerve in the lane, to turn the wheel too little or too much when changing lanes or making a turn, and that causes braking that is either too slow or too fast for the circumstance.
Unlike the slow-building effects of drug abuse on the heart and kidneys over time, the effects of alcohol on the brain are immediately detectable. People can see the impact on a user’s motor skills come on, and see them recede once the substance that caused the effects has left the user’s system. This noticeable change in a user’s physical functioning may make many believe that the effects of drugs or alcohol on the brain are short-term.
Studies suggest, however, that prolonged exposure to a substance has an effect on the brain long after an abuser has stopped using. After three months, the brain of a cocaine abuser still has significantly lower functioning than a normal brain, and scientists believe that, in many cases, full brain function never returns after prolonged drug use.
The most severe impact of substances on motor skills may not be on the user, but, in the case of pregnant drug abusers, on the baby. Exposure to drugs in the woman have shown a direct correlation to slow motor development in infants. Low muscle tone in infants exposed to substances in the womb make motor functioning more difficult, and reflexes are slower than those of their non-exposed counterparts for the first year.
This impairment of motor functioning does appear to dissipate within the second year of life, allowing children born to drug-addicted parents to catch up to their peers physically, though behavioral problems remain.
Drug abuse has many debilitating effects on the body that, over time, can lead to a number of chronic health conditions, or even death. Some of the most dangerous immediate effects of abuse, though, involve the instant impairment of the brain and the motor skills. A decrease in the ability of the body to function results in accidents that could be otherwise be avoided.
Though the effects may be less visible when an abuser isn’t intoxicated, the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain remains long after a user ceases to use. Since the body’s functioning is dependent on the brain for data, any long-term damage to the brain is long-term damage to the entire body.