The endocrine and exocrine systems are related body systems that secrete hormones and other chemical transmitters that regulate body systems. The endocrine system secretes these substances inside the body to regulate metabolism, fertility, the fight-or-flight response, and cell growth, among other responsibilities. The exocrine system works similarly, but secretes substances outside the body. Sweat glands, saliva, and mammary glands are all parts of the exocrine system. Some organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and gonads, are considered both endocrine and exocrine glands.
These systems are vital to the stabilization of body functions and brain chemistry, and when a person struggles with substance abuse, both the endocrine and exocrine systems suffer damage. Many substances of abuse can damage these systems, but some intoxicating substances damage specific endocrine or exocrine organs more than others. Here are some of the substances of abuse that can harm the endocrine or exocrine systems.
Substances Harmful to the Endocrine and Exocrine Systems
- Alcohol: Although it is legal to consume this intoxicating substance, it can be very dangerous, and alcohol is very addictive for many people. Alcohol has a huge impact on most organ systems in the body, especially when it is consumed chronically in large quantities. The liver suffers greatly due to alcohol use disorder; over time, liver enzymes increase, which can lead to alcohol hepatitis, or cirrhosis. Women who struggle with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop breast cancer. Chronic alcohol abuse can disrupt hormonal cycles, leading to reduced sexual ability, fertility, and physical energy. The pancreas, which helps the digestive system, also suffers damage; alcohol prevents digestive enzymes from being properly released into the intestines, which can lead to pancreatic inflammation, or pancreatitis. This is either acute (sudden) or chronic (over time).
- Amphetamines: These drugs can disrupt hormones, leading to sexual and fertility problems.
- Benzodiazepines: Long-term abuse, or overuse, of benzodiazepines may cause damage to the pituitary gland, which can harm metabolism, growth (in adolescents and young adults), and the fight-or-flight response tied to release of adrenaline.
- Cocaine: When this drug is snorted, it can cause serious damage to mucous membranes in the nose and throat. The drug also disrupts hormones and hormone production, leading to sexual dysfunction. Consistent overstimulation of the adrenal glands can lead to mood disorders, paranoia, and aggression.
- Inhalants: If the person abuses these drugs more than once, serious, lasting complications to several organ systems can occur. Hormones can be dramatically disrupted, causing infertility and sexual dysfunction; mucous membranes are damaged, depending on whether the substances are inhaled through the nose or mouth; and liver damage occurs due to toxic chemicals being processed through the digestive system.
- Marijuana: The drug can change hormonal balance, reducing sexual function and fertility.
- Opioids: Hypogonadism is a side effect of chronic opioid abuse, leading to infertility and hormone imbalances that may not be reversible. Reduced sex hormones can also lead to depression, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, and loss of muscle mass.
- Steroids: Since these substances are derived from testosterone and intended to increase muscle mass, the testosterone-like chemicals can seriously impact the body’s ability to produce other, necessary hormones, creating a serious hormone imbalance. This affects mood, fertility, sexual function, and cognitive function. Abusing steroids increases the risk of liver damage, including peliosis hepatis, tumors, and cancer.
- Tobacco: The risk of developing cancer, including breast and pancreatic cancer, is increased if a person smokes. Tobacco, particularly in cigarettes, disrupts hormonal cycles, and these regular changes, especially in women, can make it harder to quit due to cravings tied to hormonal changes.
End Addiction to Become Healthy Again
A rehabilitation program is the best way to overcome an addiction or substance abuse problem. When a person enters a rehabilitation program, they not only receive the psychological help they need to understand their addiction, but they also receive medical supervision for serious conditions related to substance abuse. Most importantly, getting sober and maintaining abstinence can help to reverse or reduce damage to organ systems like the endocrine and exocrine systems.