Visual observation alone tells much of the story. Methamphetamine addicts often look old, as do cigarette smokers. Drug addicts almost always look older than their non-addicted cohorts. This paper by Bachi, Volkow, et al., suggests that drug-addiction may by itself trigger early onset of age-related disease due, in part, to drug-induced, multi-system toxicity and the high-risk lifestyle associated with trauma, disease and declining health.
The authors identify pathophysiological processes associated with addictive disease and aging including: oxidative stress and cellular aging, inflammation in the periphery and the brain, decreased brain volume and function, and early onset of cardiac, cerebrovascular, kidney, and liver disease.
Why Does This Matter?
This is a very high powered group of national research leaders. The idea that the Director of NIDA, Nora Volkow, has written this paper suggests that the data is robust and accumulating to a level where the authors support the association between drug use-and premature aging.
Prevention, as always, is the only 100% successful treatment. Identification of addiction in those with premature morbidity and early mortality seems like too little too late. More research from NIH-NIDA on the early aging phenomenon is needed for everyone, including health professionals.