The Effects Of Substance Use On Appearance

In 2019, West Virginia had the highest drug overdose-related death rate in the US, coming in at a staggering 52.8% per 100,000 residents. Outside of Delaware (48%), the closest ranking states to West Virginia were Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, proving that the drug epidemic is happening right in our backyard. 

Drug usage results in a number of unhealthy consequences, from dissension within the family to self-disfigurement. Read on to discover how substance abuse can affect a person’s self-confidence and appearance. 

An Appalachian Problem

Ranking 33% higher than the third-ranked state (OH), widely used substances in West Virginia range from alcohol to illicit drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and meth. Residents often use a number of prescription drugs, including benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax), ADHD stimulant medications (Adderall, Ritalin), and opioid painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin).

Substance abuse of any kind has the ability to damage a person’s reputation or family. In worst-case scenarios, substance disorders (SUDs) have caused death. Opioid drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers have caused a statewide crisis, costing the state’s economy roughly $8.8 billion a year.

How Substance Abuse Harms the Body

Substance abuse affects every part of a person’s life. In terms of the body, abuse can result in severe and long-term health defects. Affected areas of the body are the skin, liver, kidneys, bladder, and stomach.

How Substance Abuse Harms Self-Confidence

The skin is one of the first things someone recognizes in their appearance. Consequently, it’s one of the first things others notice, too. Unhealthy skin is often a manifestation of something worse internally. When the appearance of your skin has dulled, it becomes obvious to all that an underlying health problem may be present. 

Poor skin tones and blemishes severely weaken self-confidence. Whereas someone with healthy skin appears lively, the skin of an addict appears older than normal––and though substance abuse does present a challenge to physical health, it can also have a drastic influence on a person’s emotional and mental well-being. 

Common Skin Problems

One of the more noticeable areas of the body affected by SUD is the skin. Though most are unaware of potentially harmful consequences, the state of one’s skin and complexion may indicate the presence of more severe problems. Common symptoms to the usage of cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and opioids include:

  • Dry skin or skin infections
  • Sclerosis (track marks)
  • Necrosis, or death of skin cells
  • Blackening of the palms
  • Chronic skin ulcers
  • Pustulosis
  • Schonlein-Henoch vasculitis
  • Buerger’s disease
  • Bullous erythema multiforme
  • Jaundice

Other Symptoms and Longterm Affects

Further related symptoms to the list above include:

  • Color: The skin may become gray, pale, or washed-out.
  • Oral Ailment: Lip and gum skin may become inflamed and swollen, or cracked and dry. 
  • Inflammation of the Skin: Drugs can cause redness, irritation, or itching, especially near the injection site.
  • Acne: If you already have acne, substance addiction often exacerbates the problem.
  • Scarring and Sores: Drug users who suffer from hallucinations, such as the sensation of crawling insects beneath their skin, will alleviate those feeling by clawig or picking at the skin on their face or body.

Longterm affects may include:

  • Blood clots in the eyes or bloodshot eyes
  • Eyelids that are droopy or retracted
  • Eyes that have sunk
  • Symptoms of aging
  • Sores and blemishes on the skin
  • Harm to the teeth and complications in the mouth

How Can GameChanger Help?

GameChanger is a youth-led initiative designed to educate, support, and empower adolescents to make healthier choices. Our goal is to encourage youth to lead by example, improve futures, and make a difference in the state of West Virginia.

Fueled by the largest Public-Private Coalition in the nation, state departments and related organizations are teaming up with the private and local businesses to meet the needs of substance misuse, namely in teens, throughout the state. 

Now’s the time to stand up and lead the next generation of CHANGE in West Virginia. 

Want to get in the game? Visit

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