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Why Do Drugs Cause Hair Loss and Damage?

How Addiction Affects Hair

As drug rehab near Boston, we know that addiction and drug abuse can have many negative consequences, including those related to their health. While it is common to hear warnings about lung problems, liver issues, or cardiovascular problems from long-term drug and alcohol abuse, the negative cosmetic effects of addiction are sometimes not discussed as readily. In what ways does substance abuse affect physical appearance? Do drugs cause hair loss? Banyan Massachusetts is taking a closer look at the correlation between drug abuse and hair loss.

The Many Ways Drug Abuse Affects Your Hair

Along with problems inside the body, many people do not realize that addiction can have a negative impact on your appearance, including your hair.

Changes in the Physical Appearance of Hair From Drug Abuse

Because addicts are constantly pumping their bodies with harmful toxins, they may not be getting the necessary nutrients they need to look and feel their best. This same idea applies to hair. Human hair requires specific nutrients to grow and remain healthy, but substance abuse may deprive your body of these nutrients and can lead to visible damage.

Drug addiction has a variety of consequences on hair, including changes to its texture, color, and vitality. Misuse of substances can frequently result in a lifeless, uninteresting appearance as the gloss and vitality of the hair are lost. Additionally, some medications can alter pigmentation, resulting in color changes that can be both subtle and obvious. Additionally, the hair's texture may change, becoming dry, brittle, and more prone to breaking. These changes highlight the crucial role that general well-being plays in preserving the vitality of our hair and illustrate the delicate relationship between our internal health and our outward manifestations.

One of the biggest ways addiction affects hair is with increased hair loss. Drugs, especially illegal drugs, can interrupt the hair cycle by tricking the follicles into premature rest or stopping the mitotic activity of the cells altogether.
1 The result is noticeable hair loss after frequent and long-term use. For many drug users, this can not only be visibly unappealing to them but can also lead to mental issues like decreased confidence and self-esteem. In serious cases, this could also lead to depression that requires professional attention. A good outpatient addiction program will help the recovering addict with these secondary issues as well.

What Illegal Drugs Cause Hair Loss?

Different kinds of drug use can have negative side effects, including hair loss, which can have varying effects on different people. Even though not all illegal substances cause hair loss, several have been shown to significantly affect the health and vitality of hair follicles.

Some substances associated with drug-induced hair loss include:

  • Methamphetamines: Regular use of these drugs might interfere with the cycle of normal hair development, causing thinning and, eventually, hair loss. This is frequently ascribed to the narrowing of blood arteries, which prevents vital nutrients from reaching hair follicles.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine abuse may cause vasoconstriction, which lowers the blood supply to the hair follicles. Over time, this may weaken the hair shaft and cause greater shedding. Hair loss can also be made worse by lifestyle elements connected to cocaine consumption, such as poor diet and lack of sleep.
  • Opiates: The disease known as telogen effluvium, in which a sizable proportion of hair follicles enter a resting phase too soon, increasing shedding, has been linked to chronic opioid usage. Although this form of hair loss is frequently just transitory, it may worsen in situations of severe or continuous misuse.
  • Gabapentin: Hair loss has been linked to gabapentin use over a lengthy period of time. Although the precise mechanisms are unclear, it is thought that gabapentin may interfere with the cycle of normal hair development, possibly causing thinning and eventual loss. This effect might be connected to changes in blood flow or nutrient supply to the hair follicles, but more investigation is required to make sure of this.

Chemical Changes in Hair From Addiction

Below the surface, there appear to be structural changes in the hair of addicts of some drugs as well. No matter how illicit drugs are administered in the body, the harmful chemicals can collect in the hair through various means of administration at different stages of the hair’s growth cycle.2 This collection can cause lasting damage to their hair over time.

One study found that the keratinized structure of the hair was damaged in 97.2% of cocaine abusers, and the outer layer of the hair, called the cuticle, was also damaged in 95.8% of the cocaine abusers sampled.3 This research suggests that cocaine addiction affects hair in several negative ways. Cocaine is also not the only drug to cause structural damage to hair. 97.9% of LSD users had destroyed cuticle layers as well.With this damage to the hair’s structure, it is no wonder that drug users can see drastic physical changes in their hair’s appearance as well.

Is Hair Loss From Drugs Reversible?

Depending on a number of conditions, the reversible nature of drug-related hair loss can vary. Stopping drug usage and changing to a healthier lifestyle can frequently result in a gradual return to normal hair growth patterns in situations where hair loss is caused by momentary interruptions in the hair development cycle, such as with some stimulant substances like cocaine or methamphetamines. This suggests that hair loss may be curable once the body heals from the drug's side effects and the hair follicles resume their normal growth cycles.

However, the harm to hair follicles can be more serious and long-lasting in some people, especially those who have engaged in severe and persistent substance addiction. Chronic drug use, especially with opioids, can result in telogen effluvium, a disorder where a large proportion of hair follicles enter a resting phase too soon, causing considerable hair shedding. While stopping drug usage in these situations is important for overall health, it might take longer for the hair to grow thick and dense, and some degree of irreversible hair loss might continue. Getting expert guidance from a dermatologist or other medical professional might offer insightful information about specific circumstances and treatment possibilities.

How to Combat the Negative Effects of Addiction on Hair

One of the best ways to prevent further hair damage and reverse some of the negative effects is to stop abusing these drugs. With time, the toxins will be flushed from the body, including the hair, and the hair will begin to regrow as normal. In serious cases, users may also want to see a hair loss specialist.

Although the solution may be as simple as stopping drug or alcohol abuse, this is often easier said than done. Most addicts find it difficult to stop their addiction on their own, so this is where our Massachusetts addiction treatment programs step in. We help patients overcome their addictions and improve the overall quality of their lives.

To get started or to get more details on rehab in Massachusetts, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763.


  1. NCBI - Drug-induced hair loss and hair growth. Incidence, management, and avoidance
  2. NCBI - Mechanism of drug incorporation into hair
  3. NCBI - Ultra-structural hair alterations of drug abusers: a scanning electron microscopic investigation
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.