How alcohol and drug addiction alters a person’s appearance
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alcohol and drug addiction alters a persons appearance

alcohol and drug addiction alters a persons appearance

When experts offer warnings about the dangers of substance abuse it often gets blown off. Feeling immortal, teenagers might ignore the evidence that is presented to them, to their peril. Junior high school science teachers show their classes images of black lungs to try to deter their students from smoking. Some of the kids light up anyway. Black lungs don’t trump being cool.

When it comes to the physical toll that drugs and alcohol can take on a person, appealing to vanity might have stronger sway and hopefully cause casual users to give pause and stop further progress down the slippery slope of addiction. The truth is addiction can cause premature aging and ruin a person’s appearance. Here are some examples of how a temporary high can have long-term impact on a person’s looks.


That classic caricature of an alcoholic: bulbous, red nose; bloated visage complete with rosacea; and distended belly; it is actually a very realistic depiction. Because alcohol is fattening, with a couple of cocktails equaling a burger in calorie load or a glass of wine equivalent to a cupcake, weight gain is likely with heavy drinking. Combined with the liver damage that might be going on below the surface, the belly might protrude and the face could bloat, eventually distorting the features.

Alcohol dehydrates the body, in addition to robbing it of vital vitamins and nutrients, so the skin might reflect this with a dry, dull appearance and prominent wrinkles. The aging process is accelerated because alcohol depletes the body of important nutrients that are necessary for collagen production. Broken capillaries caused by dilated blood vessels can cause spidery, red veins to sprout around the nose and can cause glassy, bloodshot eyes. Because of the loss of fluid, as well as iron, hair and nails become brittle and hair loss is common.


The most dramatic physical damage from snorting cocaine abuse is the destruction of the nose. Because cocaine causes the blood vessels in the nasal septum’s lining to constrict, the oxygen supply becomes depleted, causing erosion, a hole or complete collapse of the septum. At the very least, cocaine will cause a perpetually inflamed, runny nose and nosebleeds.

Some cocaine users experience a sensation that bugs or spiders are crawling on them, and resort to picking and scratching at their skin, causing sores. Skin becomes pale and eyes appear sunken. In some users the face becomes gaunt, where others acquire “coke bloat.” In addition, cocaine is a stimulant, which can lead to extreme weight loss in a heavy user.


Heroin suppresses the appetite, resulting in extreme weight loss. Dark bags under the eyes are common, in addition to skin sores and acne. A vitamin deficiency results from a poor diet and the drug itself, causing the skin to develop a wrinkled, saggy appearance.

A blood pressure reduction caused by heroin use results in a bluish pallor to the skin and nails. Bruising and sores are visible at the injection sites on the arms and other parts of the body.

Amphetamines and methamphetamines

All amphetamines can cause dramatic weight loss from inappetence, and gaunt appearance from lack of sleep. However, methamphetamines cause the most significant damage to appearance. “Meth mouth” refers to the tooth decay that results in rotten, discolored and broken teeth, dramatically impacting a person’s looks. This is caused by the drug’s acids that eat away tooth enamel, in addition to the teeth grinding that is common with amphetamine use.

Meth speeds up the aging process, leaving the user with deep wrinkles, and dull, haggard skin. Because addicts tend to pick at their skin, open sores and oozing scabs appear on the face in addition to acne.


A common reaction to getting high on weed is an increased appetite. When the munchies hit, the foods of choice tend to be empty-calorie snacks and junk food, which can pack on pounds.  Bloodshot eyes and resin-stained teeth are also physical effects of smoking pot.

Containing many of the same harmful collagen-inhibiting carcinogens that are found in tobacco smoke, marijuana accelerates the aging process. THC increases testosterone levels, sometimes resulting in breakouts or hair loss. If a person is prone to psoriasis or rosacea, marijuana can exacerbate these conditions.

Face the future

Technology allows individuals to see how drug and alcohol use can cause their features to change and morph over time. After uploading a photo, the programs can then alter the facial features based on the drug or alcohol selection. Seeing how people will look after five, 10 or 20 years of substance abuse can have a powerful effect and might deter individuals from continuing the drug use, or prevent them from ever starting in the first place.

Sovereign Health of California is an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider, offering several locations in California as well as centers in Utah, Arizona and Florida. For more information on treatment for drugs and alcohol please call (866) 819-0427.

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