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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Later effects of substance abuse



My husband actively abused drugs and alcohol from his teens to early 30`s. He`s now in his 50`s and is having memory problems along with other physical ailments. I wondered if there have been studies done to understand the long term effects (especially on the brain) of substance abuse; and what the difference is with later long term abstinence.


Thank you for your question about what sounds like a very difficult situation. There are some things that are known ... and some that are unknown.

1) Alcohol abuse is by far the most damaging to the brain and nervous system, and tends to be an immediate thing - meaning that once a person is sober for several months, the toxic effects of alcohol either "freeze" where they are or even resolve gradually to some degree. It is NOT typical for past alcohol problems to produce progressive / new / on-going brain effects.

2) The drugs that have the most brain effects are PCP / LSD / Marijuana / and Amphetamines - especially methamphetamine. Generally cocaine and opioids (heroin and other prescription pain medicines) do not produce long-term damage to the brain / nervous system.

3) If a person suffered pretty severe liver damage from either alcoholic cirrhosis, or hepatitis C or B, or a combination, then this can certainly produce progressive deterioration in brain function many years to decades later. It is the same situation if a person was infected by HIV as a consequence of their addictive disease.

That is the bad news. The good news is that IF he is truly sober, then be SURE that none of the following reversible or fairly treatable causes are not active for him. Be sure that he is:

Hope this guidance helps a little bit.

For more information:

Go to the Addiction and Substance Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University