There are plenty of reasons to stop doing drugs: It makes your family and friends worry, can leave your finances in shambles, land you in jail, and not least of all, end your life prematurely. What’s less talked about is precisely what happens when you stop using drugs. Along with the physical benefits (after the initial discomfort from withdrawal), you will likely experience several other changes in your emotions, thinking patterns, attention span, and so much more. Here are ten things you have to look forward to after quitting drugs.
1. Feeling more attractive
Drug use can interfere with your looks in many ways that go beyond skin deep. Yes, it can damage your liver and kidneys, causing dehydration and leaving you with dry skin, premature wrinkles, and pronounced dark undereye bags. However, it can also interfere with appetite and digestion, then leading to malnutrition and a lack of essential vitamins to fuel hair growth or skin cell turnover; disrupt your sleep, causing you to toss and turn and miss out on the regenerative power of a good night’s rest; or destroy your teeth–and your smile–by rotting your pearly whites one by one.
Many of these features–our skin, our hair, our smile–are hard-wired as indicators of a person’s vitality and fertility which subconsciously guide our instinctual sense of what we consider attractive. Fortunately, the body is incredibly resilient. Once your body starts getting the basic care of proper nutrition, and rest, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and the extent that those effects can be reversed, leaving you feeling better, looking better, and fundamentally more attractive.
2. Increased libido
It seems counterintuitive as drug use and being high is often portrayed as a precursor to sex in movies, music, and pop culture or even enhancing it. The truth, however, is that many of these mind-altering substances actually reduce libido as well as sexual performance. Alcohol, hallucinogens, opioids, and stimulants are all guilty of impacting sex in some way, either the initial arousal, performance of the act itself (lower lubrication or perceived pleasure), as well as the ability to orgasm.
This very unsexy condition, known as drug-induced sexual dysfunction, is frighteningly common amongst drug abusers. Serotonin, dopamine, and ganglion blockages are all involved with sex, and all of that (and more) are directly affected by drug use. As scary as that sounds, there is good news. Drug-induced sex issues are usually quickly reversible once the responsible substance is no longer being used.
3. Better mood
The same pathways that allow drugs to get you high, also cause major disruption to your neurotransmitter and hormone levels. These naturally occurring chemicals serve as the messengers, receivers, and signalers to all of your body’s important, if seemingly mundane, functions. When they’re thrown out of whack, the entire system goes haywire. In addition to these disruptions, drug use can change the structure of the brain itself, which can also directly affect mood.
Drug-induced increases of adrenaline and cortisol from cocaine or other stimulant abuse, for example, can result in heightened levels of stress and aggression, that can eventually lead to chronic stress. The same mechanisms that cause drugs to cause the effects they do, also cause heightened negative emotions as well as a lowered ability for mood regulation. This means greater sensitivity to stimuli (or perceived stimuli), and less control over those moods, and cognitive ability to use reason.
One of the most common things that people in recovery comment on is how their mind is clearer and that it feels like a fog has lifted. That they can see the world in a new, more logical way. When the mind is not clouded by drugs, it is able to make better and more certain decisions.
4. Improved productivity
Similarly related to the improvements in mood is the restoration of cognitive abilities. The trope about weed smokers having a bad memory isn’t restricted to marijuana users. Over time, any kind of long-term substance abuse has the potential to corrode the prefrontal cortex which houses the bulk of important decision-making capabilities as well as memory. Studies have shown the adolescents are particularly vulnerable to cognitive impairment, as the brain is still developing until we’re 25.
While 100% of brain function might not be restored, the brain can often heal itself significantly. This process is known as neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons. Previously believed to be limited to embryonic development, it was first discovered in the 1960s that adult brains can form new neurons too, improving mood regulation, memory, and spatial learning. The benefits of such cognitive improvement are invaluable. It can improve performance at work but also able to manage home and family life, like remembering which household chores need to be done (and having the self-control to follow through without getting distracted) or remembering important dates.
5. Better relationships with friends and family
When the focus is not on drug use, recovered drug users are able to make time for their loved ones. More importantly, they possess the emotional capacity to relate and emphasize with others, strengthening their ability to nurture meaningful relationships. The importance of having a support network (particularly that of the family) is a major aspect of addiction treatment. So much so that many treatment programs include the family or re-learning how to socialize in order to connect with others on a deeper emotional level and foster those relationships.
6. Sleeping more soundly
Catching some ‘z’s becomes a whole lot harder when drugs or alcohol are involved. These substances have a direct impact on our ability to feel tired, fall asleep, stay asleep, and the quality of our rest when we do manage to get some shut-eye. Sleep apnea, insomnia, and nightmares are common side effects of drug abuse or addiction. The repercussions of lack of sleep include poor physical health, reduced cognitive ability, lowered impulse control, worsened mood, and even heightened drug cravings.
One of the most direct effects is how drug use disrupts our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are a regulatory biological clock that influences when important bodily functions occur, such as hormone release, eating habits, body temperature, and of course, sleep patterns. It is our circadian rhythm that is responsible for triggering the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Dopamine, which is widely known to be manipulated by drug use, plays a crucial role in sleep by affecting feelings of alertness.
Sleep quality can be significantly improved by not using drugs, but this is one reversal that won’t happen overnight. Insomnia is a common symptom of many types of drug withdrawal that can persist well after drugs have been given up. Don’t let this discourage you. The consensus amongst recovered persons is that they still get much better sleep than when they were using.
7. Return of your appetite
Most drugs exert some sort of influence over your central nervous system, which also includes your digestive tract. Whether they speed up the messaging (stimulants or “uppers”) or slow it down (CNS depressants or “downers), either kind of drug can seriously upset your stomach. Stimulants, in particular, are known for disrupting appetite. These drugs cause adrenaline to release, invoking the body’s fight-or-flight response. This response results in blood flow being diverted from unnecessary bodily functions to the brain, muscles, heart, and lungs in preparation to react to the would-be threat.
This frequently diverted blood flow prevents the digestive system from functioning properly and is why nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation are all common side effects of addiction. These gastrointestinal issues combined with a newfound priority for drug consumption, a decline in cognitive reasoning, and the disruption of key hormonal signals often result in appetite being suppressed, and food becomes a low priority and is why rapid weight loss is often one of the most detectable signs of addiction.
It can take 1-6 months for appetite to revert back to normal, and sugar cravings may take hold in the interim. The long-term benefits to overall health still make this a worthwhile reason to give up drugs.
8. Increased energy
It goes without saying that getting more sleep and eating proper nutritious meals is going to improve your energy levels. However, an even more direct source of newfound energy is simply the lack of recuperation needed from being under the influence. If you’ve ever experienced a nasty hangover, you know how severely it could put you out of commission.
Drug use put a major strain on the body–both the intoxication itself and the recovery period afterward. Your body requires an enormous amount of energy to keep your heart, lungs, and brain functioning when you’re under the effects of a drug. Having to constantly push itself into overdrive to compensate isn’t just tiring, but unsustainable.
9. Stronger immune system
The immune system is the most complex system in the human body, and arguably, one of the most important. It’s responsible for identifying and neutralizing harmful pathogens and keeping our bodies healthy. Drugs and excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver which plays a key role in triggering the immune system response. Substance abuse can also directly impact the immune system by suppressing white blood cell production, the body’s main line of defense against illness and disease–the potential dangers of which are obvious. Compound these with the potential risks of malnutrition, another side effect of addiction, and also the biggest cause of immunodeficiency and you’ve got a fail-proof recipe for a compromised immune system.
Getting off of drugs then causes a chain reaction of benefits where the body no longer has to work as hard on processing the toxins that drug use introduces to the body, has its nutritional needs met, and normal white blood cell production, it is able to become strong again and fight off infections easier.
10. Saving money
According to the most recent White House report, Americans spend an estimated $100 billion on illicit drugs between 2000 and 2010. However, the cost of the drugs themselves is just one of many financial impacts of long-term substance abuse. Addiction is partially defined by a person’s inability to maintain day-to-day functions, one of which includes holding down a job.
That loss of income can then lead to additional costs in and of itself. Loans, credit card debt, home foreclosures, and car repossessions can quickly rack up exorbitant fees. Failure to pay those can result in a dismal credit score, putting them at the mercy of high-interest rates that are costly in the long run.
Other potential costs to consider are those of legal representation from run-ins with the law and medical costs associated with emergency room care because of an overdose or some other health complication. No matter which way you look at it, drug habits are costly to maintain.
Ready To Quit Drugs? How To Make The First Step
Every individual’s journey is different. Many people relapse, struggle to heal broken relationships or experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It might not be easy or comfortable, but it always worth it. Many of our alumni found the strength to leave a toxic relationship, while others salvaged their marriages and rebuilt their lives. Some expressed improvements in their anxiety and others became leaders in their community. As unique and personal as the effects of addiction, so too are those of recovery.
No matter how severe your addiction was, there is so much to gain by giving it up. The body’s ability to bounce back after weeks, months, or years of abuse is incredible, but you can’t experience them until you quit. At The Freedom Center, we help our clients work through various aspects of their lives and create a plan for success. This includes how to effectively approach loved ones who have been affected by your drug use, how to avoid or overcome triggers, and how to make healthy lifestyle choices. Learn more about the tools and support we provide to give you your best shot at long-term addiction recovery.