Effects of Drugs on Weight Change

Part 2: Comprehensive, evidence-based guide to effects of drugs on weight gain or loss.

By Dr. Karen Vieira, PhD MSM

HEALTH The previous article detailed the effects of moderate to severe alcohol consumption. This continuation unveils consequences of smoking along with recreational or prescription drug abuse. Such substance abuse dramatically alters the diet and in most cases, it leads to irregular eating patterns and poor nutrition.

Drug Abuse And Weight

Taking recreational, illegal, and even prescription drugs inappropriately can lead to substance abuse disorders. For the purposes of this guide, a drug is defined as a chemical substance that alters the activity of the brain as well as processes in the body [1]. Drugs often affect people differently, but the harmful side effects that most drugs cause may lead to irreversible health problems, damage and in some cases, death. This guide will focus on commonly abused drugs that negatively impact people’s lives and health.

The Effects of Smoking on Weight

The nicotine contained in cigarette smoke is itself an addictive psychoactive substance. Furthermore, the fact that the rates of cigarette smoking tend to be higher in the demographic of alcohol and substance abusers makes its discussion here particularly germane.

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Weight

Smoking is a harmful habit that reduces blood circulation to vital organs, increases the risk of developing heart disease, and speeds up the progression of heart disease in people who already have it [2].

Individuals who smoke heavily may also begin to lose their appetite due to heightened nicotine cravings [3]. This, however, is not healthy weight loss as a person may simply skip one or more meals and decide to smoke instead. Although the individual is losing weight, the body is not being provided with an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals and this often results in unexpected health problems.

Some individuals actually gain weight after they begin smoking because they become more sedentary while smoking, eat higher calorie foods and exercise less [4].

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Weight

A serious problem that often occurs when an individual stops smoking is rapid weight gain, but this appears to be mostly associated with substituting food for smoking, especially when nicotine cravings begin [5]. The prospect of weight gain frequently discourages people from quitting, but those who do not quit risk suffering from even more serious conditions such as [3,6]:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Lung disease
  • Ling cancer
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Erectile dysfunction in males
  • Reproductive problems in females
  • An increased risk of death

To be clear, the risks associated with smoking far outweigh the possible weight gain that may occur if an individual quits smoking. Furthermore, with support and discipline many people have successfully quit smoking without experiencing significant weight gain. Avoiding smoking altogether is one of the best ways to prevent unhealthy weight loss or gain.

The Effects of Drug Abuse on Weight

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Weight

Recreational, illicit, and prescription medication all influence various mental processes. Certain drugs may cause temporary cognitive impairments after taking just a single dose. If this happens, a person may forget to eat properly, begin to lose weight and develop dangerously low blood sugar. Individuals who begin to abuse drugs may eventually suffer from permanent impairments in brain activity as well as physical changes that lead to dramatic weight loss and poor health.

For our discussion, we’ve broadly categorized three types of drugs commonly taken by adolescents and adults. These include: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.

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Tags: doctors, nurses, nutritionists, rehabilitation

  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:  DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington DC: Author; 2000.
  2. Otsuka R, Watanabe H, Hirata K, Tokai K, Muro T, Yoshiyama M, Takeuchi K, Yoshikawa J. Acute effects of passive smoking on the coronary circulation in healthy young adults. JAMA. 2001; 286(4):436-41.
  3. Moylan S1, Jacka FN, Pasco JA, Berk M. Cigarette smoking, nicotine dependence and anxiety disorders: a systematic review of population-based, epidemiological studies. BMC Med. 2012; 10:123.
  4. Carroll SL, Lee RE, Kaur H, Harris KJ, Strother ML, Huang TT. Smoking, weight loss intention and obesity-promoting behaviors in college students. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006; 25(4):348-53.
  5. Komiyama M1, Wada H, Ura S, Yamakage H, Satoh-Asahara N, Shimatsu A, Koyama H, Kono K, Takahashi Y, Hasegawa K. Analysis of factors that determine weight gain during smoking cessation therapy. PLoS One. 2013; 8(8):e72010.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.