How Drugs Can Change Your Looks and Appearance

You may be aware of the dangers of chronic drug use, but did you know that prolonged drug use can alter your appearance? Or maybe you have seen a celebrity mug shot and been shocked by the visible decline of how they look. Maybe you’ve noticed someone on the street with a skeletal appearance, covered in sores. The truth is drug use affects our appearance in both subtle and drastic ways, read on to find out more about how drugs alter not just our minds, but our bodies’ outward appearance. 

Can Drugs and Alcohol Affect Your Looks?

If you were on the internet in the early 2000’s you may remember the initiative by law enforcement to capture the ravages of methamphetamine addiction. “Faces of Meth” was one project that captured the sharp decline in those who were using the drug. Police identified repeat offenders and used their before and after mugshots to drive home the horrors of meth to high school students. These photos depicted premature aging, facial scarring, and tooth decay associated with meth addiction. Even more shocking was the length of time it took these individuals to deteriorate, some within less than a calendar year. 


But meth isn’t the only drug that can affect your appearance, any type of chronic drug use has the potential to prematurely age you, some drastically. Any stimulant that can suppress appetite can because you to become emaciated with daily use, making you appear gaunt and skeletal. Even non-stimulant class drugs, like heroin or oxycodone, can cause you not to eat to the point where you look starved. Anyone who’s ever been to a big city knows the tell-tale physical signs of someone experiencing full-blown substance use disorder, they’re impossible to hide. 


In plain language illegal drugs contain horrible toxins that your body must then work extra hard to get rid of. 

drug side effects

How Drug Abuse Changes Your Body and Face

If you or someone you love is dealing with addiction and chronic drug use they may experience issues with the following aspects of their appearance.

How Drugs Impact Skin: Sores, Wrinkles, Acne

Skin is our largest and most visible organ, it’s often the first thing people notice upon meeting each other. Even though chronic addiction doesn’t age us internally the stress is reflected in our complexion. Smoking cigarettes damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, causing it to sag and fold. People who use abuse stimulants can be awake for days at a time, which is highly stressful on the body, and causes someone to look exhausted, again promoting wrinkles and folds in the skin. There are a few drugs that are known to be particularly devastating on the appearance of the skin, as they often cause users to pick wounds into their skin without even realizing it. Chronic drug use also causes acne, sometimes because the effect of the high makes a person touch their face more, promoting bacteria and clogged pores. Or because the body is trying to rid itself of the toxins from the drug by sweating, and since one of the symptoms of addiction is decreased personal hygiene the sweat doesn’t get washed off. This also traps bacteria in the pores, causing breakouts. 

Other skin problems accompany substance use disorder as well, such as


  • Scars from self-inflicted wounds
  • Reduced capacity for healing wounds
  • Rashes
  • Sallow complexion
  • Deep lines and folds 
  • Dark spots and uneven skin tone
  • Rashes

Drug Abuse and Hair Loss

Unfortunately, hair growth is also highly impacted by substance abuse, many companies that perform drug testing use hair samples, as the drug can be detected long after it was consumed. Because hair holds on to substances, the toxins from illicit drugs can change the physical and chemical structure of your hair strands, leading to breakage and loss. The biggest culprit of substance-related hair loss though, is stress. We already know that stress can be incredibly damaging to your health, and heavy drug use is stressful on your body. And failing to meet your family and work obligations can stress you out to the point where your hair starts falling out in clumps. Some people even pull their hair out, or pick at their scalps, in an effort to self-soothe.

How Drugs Affect Your Muscles

Your muscles and skeletal structure are quite literally the reason you can move, and heavy drug use also impacts these important body systems. People who spend the majority of their day accessing and using illicit drugs are not taking very good care of themselves to begin with, and poor nutrition and appetite have huge impacts on your muscles and bones. Lack of sleep and self-care are indirect causes of loss of muscle and bone density, however, a substance like alcohol can actually directly impact these systems by blocking the absorption of calcium from food. Some drugs increase your body temperature, which can lead to muscle atrophy. Using needles can result in tissue damage and infection to your tendons and muscles.  At the severe end of a substance use disorder, people can even develop osteoporosis.


How Drugs Affect Your Teeth: Meth Mouth, Grinding, Staining, and More

After skin, your smile and teeth may be the next thing people notice about you upon meeting. Many drugs wreak havoc on your smile, again both directly, and indirectly. People with severe anxiety often clench their teeth, especially at night when sleeping. This causes teeth to grind together, and wear down over time. And we know that chronic drug use can cause severe anxiety. The acidity of wine can wear down tooth enamel over time. Some of the stimulant-class drugs are especially hard on the mouth, causing tooth decay, mouth sores, changes in smell and taste, and other diseases. The term “Meth mouth” was coined to describe the severe state of tooth decay and gum disease experienced by those who are chronic meth users, but it happens with other drug use also. And unlike skin or hair, the loss of teeth is irreversible.  


Does Getting Sober Make You Look Younger and Healthier?

If you feel that your drug use has damaged your appearance and aged you prematurely there is hope! People that complete rehab and maintain sobriety often notice a marked improvement in their looks from when they were at the worst of their addiction. As we know that one of the signs of substance use disorder is a decrease in personal hygiene, and many former users are able to improve that aspect of their care when undergoing therapy. When free of the toxins from illicit drugs your skin will return to its normal, healthy shade. When receiving proper nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight your muscles and body fat will return, reversing the gaunt skeletal look. Your hair will grow healthier and more shiny, and the deep folds in your face will disappear, as will the dark circles under your eyes. And advancements in dentistry can even give you a smile that you won’t feel ashamed about. But the first step to restoring your looks is reaching out for help.


Top 5 Drugs That Negatively Affect Your Appearance

 Although chronic use of legal substances like cigarettes and alcohol can also negatively impact your appearance, the top 5 illicit drugs that are especially harmful to your looks include

  • Meth
  • Cocaine
  • Adderall
  • Crack
  • Heroin

Start Your Recovery at TruPath

At TruPath our team of experts uses evidence-based treatment methods tailored specifically to your needs. We care deeply about you, and your success in recovery, interpersonal relationships, and all aspects of a life well lived. Allow us the privilege of caring for you while you forge your road to sobriety. Millions of Americans are living with addiction, you are not alone. When you connect with TruPath you are connecting with a network of care facilities offering the best in rehab care, anywhere. Reach out to our call center, we operate 24/7 and offer same-day admissions. 

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