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Weight Loss & Drug Abuse

By Tracii Hanes ; Updated July 18, 2017

Drug abuse is the excessive or irresponsible use of mind-altering substances. Weight loss is a possible side effect of many drugs and can result from the lifestyle involved in drug abuse. Too much weight loss can lead to malnutrition and other health problems. Understanding the link between weight loss and drug abuse allows drug abusers and their loved ones to recognize the signs sooner for a better outcome.


Weight loss in drug abusers can stem from a number of causes. Stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine cause weight loss directly by suppressing appetite and speeding metabolism. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stimulant abusers often go on binges during which they avoid eating and sleeping for days at a time. The lifestyle involved in drug abuse also can contribute to weight loss in some users. The drive to obtain, use and recover from drugs like heroin, as well as the high cost of maintaining a drug habit, can cause users to neglect nutrition.

Signs and Symptoms

Drug-related weight loss is often accompanied or preceded by other symptoms. Loss of appetite, reduced interest in favorite foods, nausea when eating and “forgetting” to eat are all common precursors to weight loss in drug abusers. Stimulant abusers also might experience increased energy, irritability and reduced need for sleep while in the throes of a drug binge.

Health Effects

Being significantly underweight increases the risk for a variety of health problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, both underweight and obesity are linked with higher premature death rates, with 33,746 excess deaths occurring in underweight people in the year 2000. In combination with weight loss, the effects of drugs like cocaine, alcohol or opiates can lead to even more serious problems. Stimulant abuse damages the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Injecting drugs of any kind puts users at risk for fatal blood infections and--when sharing syringes with others--communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Overdose and addiction are other possible consequences of drug abuse.


The only way to avoid excessive weight loss while abusing drugs is to abstain from using drugs altogether. Drug abusers can lower their risk of harmful weight loss by taking periodic breaks from drug use and incorporating healthy diet and exercise habits into their daily lives. Dietary supplements containing vitamins and minerals can help supplement a healthy diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies.


In some cases, excessive weight loss in drug users can stem from diseases acquired through drug use, such as HIV or hepatitis. If you or someone you know experiences unexplained weight loss of more than 20 pounds, seek medical help promptly to rule out life-threatening diseases.

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