How Substance Abuse Affects the Musculoskeletal System
The musculoskeletal system is the larger system created by muscles, bones, tendons, and joints working together. Nearly all movement in the body occurs because of muscles contraction, and most voluntary movement is muscle contracting around bones. Skeletal muscles hold the body in place, and they control sitting, standing, walking, talking, gesturing, and much more.
Diseases in this system, or damage to this system, can lead to impaired movement, chronic pain, and damage to other organ systems, like the circulatory system, immune system, and kidneys. Substance abuse and addiction can cause lasting damage to this system, often from falls leading to fractures while the individual is intoxicated.
In addition, the inability to metabolize some nutrients, such as calcium, can reduce bone and muscle growth, or impede the immune system’s ability to fight diseases. Some methods of ingesting intoxicating substances can cause infections in muscles or bones. Additionally, ingesting addictive drugs can increase the risk of cancer, including bone cancers.
Intoxicating Substances That Damage the Musculoskeletal System
Some addictive substances are more damaging to the musculoskeletal system than others. Here are some of the most problematic substances for this system:
- Alcohol: People who struggle with alcohol use disorder disrupt the ability of their digestive system to absorb calcium, and on a long-term basis, this can lead to osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or other brittle bone conditions. This increases the risk of fractures or breaks, especially when combined with the loss of physical coordination that occurs when a person is drunk. Also, changes to the muscles and kidney function can lead to rhabdomyolysis, in which the muscles begin to break down and release toxins into the bloodstream, eventually overwhelming the kidneys.
- Benzodiazepines: These prescription psychiatric medications are often abused, as they induce a sense of relaxation and euphoria rapidly after a person takes them. That intoxication causes side effects like muscle weakness and pain, as well as a loss of physical coordination that looks like the person is drunk. This can lead to falls, fractures, sprains, and other problems with the musculoskeletal system.
- Inhalants: This type of substance abuse is extremely dangerous and likely to cause damage to some body systems upon first use. Chronic abuse of inhalants like benzene damages bone marrow. Other inhalants cause skeletal abnormalities if abused over a long time.
- MDMA: Also called Molly and sometimes confused with ecstasy, this amphetamine is a club drug that can lead to serious consequences. One of the most dangerous effects for the musculoskeletal system is hyperthermia, which leads to muscle breakdown similar to rhabdomyolysis. This can poison other organ systems, especially the kidneys.
- Opioids: Prescription versions of these drugs are often prescribed to alleviate muscle and bone pain from many conditions, ranging from fractures or surgery to chronic illnesses like arthritis or cancer. However, opioid drugs can cause side effects like muscle aches and pain. Additionally, opioids like heroin, which are shot directly into the veins, can cause infections of the tendons or joints (osteomyelitis or septic arthritis). Brown heroin, in particular, can lead to side effects like joint stiffness, muscle pain and aches, and low back pain.
- Steroids: When adolescents or young adults abuse steroids, the drug forces bones to stop growing, leading to shorter stature and potential bone problems later in life. Abuse of steroids can also change the ability of muscles to grow and cause tendon rupture in any age group. The practice of doping in athletes adds stress to muscles and bones, increasing the risk of fractures and torn muscles. Steroid injections are typically done into muscle tissue, which can cause muscle infections.
Fractures and sprains from falling while intoxicated can be painful, but other, long-lasting damage from infections, reduced nutrition, and the breakdown of muscles and bones has serious physical consequences. For many people, achieving and maintaining sobriety can reduce or reverse physical problems related to substance abuse.