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5 Bad Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Get Treatment for Your Addiction

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that affects millions of Americans each year. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 20 million people aged 12 or older suffered from addiction in 2017.[1]

Addiction, or substance use disorders, are described as neuropsychological conditions that cause a persistent and intense urge to engage in substance abuse. If you struggle with addiction, you know that you continue to abuse drugs or alcohol despite facing a myriad of consequences and substantial harm. This is because repetitive substance abuse alters brain functions in ways that limit self-control and perpetuate drug cravings.

While it can be difficult to overcome addiction, leaving it untreated can cause you to experience several adverse effects. The consequences you face will continue to increase in severity as your addiction is left untreated. In the beginning, you might deal with strains in relationships or troubles maintaining a job, however, it can quickly progress to worse issues like incarceration, life-threatening health conditions, homelessness, and even death.

Being aware of the risks of leaving your addiction untreated could motivate you to receive professional help for your substance use disorder. Here are 5 potential consequences of addiction:

1. Legal Issues and Incarceration

When you suffer from addiction, you will most likely engage in some form of crime. Whether it’s buying illegal drugs, stealing to obtain the means to buy drugs, or engaging in drug dealing yourself, addiction almost always results in illegal activity. Unfortunately, many people find themselves facing legal charges as a result of their substance use disorder (SUD).

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “research shows that an estimated 65% percent of the United States prison population has an active SUD.”[2]

In other words, the majority of the prison population in America suffers from addiction. This proves that one of the long-term consequences of untreated substance abuse and addiction is incarceration, which can leave lasting effects on your life. Once you serve time in jail for drug-related crimes, those charges remain on your record and can make it difficult for you to obtain steady employment, housing, and more.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “scientific research since the mid-1970s shows that treatment of those with SUDs in the criminal justice system can change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward drug use; avoid relapse; and successfully remove themselves from a life of substance use and crime.”[2]

2. Long-Term Health Consequences

Psychoactive drugs cause mind-altering effects, meaning they can cause you to think, feel, and act differently. While the short-term effects of drugs can be pleasurable, long-term substance abuse can lead to irreversible medical issues.

For example, one of the main health concerns associated with drug use stems from intravenous  (IV) drug abuse. When you are addicted to a drug like heroin, you will likely begin engaging in intravenous use (injecting the drug into your veins). IV drug use comes with a variety of risks, including abscesses, infection, and more. Over time, you will become less careful about the needles you use, often leading to needle sharing. This can cause you to contract infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis.[3]

Other health consequences of untreated addiction include:

  • Certain cancers
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Damage to the central nervous system of your brain
  • Circulatory system issues
  • Respiratory conditions like lung disease
  • Damage to the immune system
  • Gastrointestinal system problems like ulcers or intestinal holes
  • Impacted hormonal functions that lead to issues like infertility or pancreatitis

3. Financial Devastation and Homelessness

When you suffer from addiction, you have a hard time prioritizing anything other than your substance abuse. Oftentimes, this causes people to miss work, show up to work intoxicated or perform poorly at their jobs. As a result, substance abuse often leads to unemployment.

Long-term unemployment makes it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to pay your bills. Over time, this could cause you to become evicted from your home. In other words, long-term addiction can lead to homelessness.

According to the National Library of Medicine, one-third of people struggling with homelessness suffer from substance abuse and two-thirds of homeless individuals have a lifetime history of substance use disorders.[4]

4. Increased Risk of Trauma

Addiction can put you in dangerous circumstances. When someone struggles with addiction they may surround themselves with other individuals who are engaged in criminal activity. This means they are at an increased risk of witnessing or being a victim of violent crimes, exposing them to traumatic experiences.

Additionally, many people who abuse substances hang out with other individuals suffering from addiction. Being around other people who are actively abusing drugs could put you at an increased risk of being a victim of violence. According to the National Library of Medicine, “physical and psychological effects of drugs can lead to agitation, aggression, and cognitive impairment that might, in turn, heighten the risk of violence.”[5] Continuing your addiction increases your risk of re-traumatization.

Lastly, when you and your friends are suffering from addiction, you are bound to experience grief and loss. Drug addiction often leads to overdoses, which can be fatal depending on the substance and dosage. Many people who suffer from substance use disorders have watched their friends die from drug overdoses, one by one. Losing multiple friends to addiction can be extremely traumatic, leading to lasting emotional and psychological pain.

5. Death

Leaving your addiction untreated can lead to an array of negative consequences, as displayed above. Jails, medical conditions, homelessness, and traumatic experiences are all part of the addiction experience for many individuals. Unfortunately, death is another consequence of allowing your addiction to be left untreated.

Addiction causes you to build a tolerance to the drug you are using, meaning you will have to increase your dosage to experience the desired effect. Over time, this could cause you to use such high doses of a substance that you experience a fatal overdose.

Additionally, a dangerous drug known as fentanyl is often found laced with other street drugs like heroin, cocaine, or counterfeit pills like Xanax or Oxycodone. Using a substance that is laced with fentanyl one time could lead to a fatal overdose.

According to the CDC, “In 2020, 91,799 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.”[6]

Get Connected With a Top-Rated Addiction Treatment Program in South Carolina Today

If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, it’s time to seek help. Leaving your addiction untreated could lead to an array of serious consequences, including incarceration, homelessness, and death. Attending a professional addiction treatment program could prevent you from experiencing the long-term consequences of addiction.

South Carolina Addiction Treatment is a state-licensed and CARF (commission on accreditation of rehabilitation facilities) accredited substance abuse treatment facility. We are a dual-diagnosis facility with a primary focus on substance abuse. We offer individualized, extended-term treatment in an intimate setting located in Greenville / Simpsonville, SC. We take a holistic approach to treating addiction, offering a variety of treatment modalities centered around identifying and resolving the underlying issues associated with the addiction.

Call today to speak with an admissions counselor about starting your recovery.