Opioid abuse is reaching crisis levels across the world. In the USA, over 11 million people abused prescription opiates in 2015. Similarly, US drug overdose deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2015, leading to investigations into what is being called the ‘opioid crisis’.
The Opiates Commission has called on the American government to declare a state of national emergency over the problem. In the UK we are generally better protected against abuse, due to our restrictive prescribing laws. However, codeine – a popular, pain-relieving narcotic which is known to be habit-forming – is still available over-the-counter in Britain. This drug is only available via prescription in many countries, including America, Japan, Australia and most of Europe.
Whilst the debate concerning the extent of the opioid epidemic and what can be done about it rages, we explain why hair loss can be a common symptom of drug abuse.
Hair loss caused by drug abuse
Constant drug abuse – whether prescription medication, over-the-counter or illegal drugs – can cause visible changes to the hair. If the problem is consistent over a period of a few months, the hair is likely to start to look dull, brittle and prone to breakage. This is because of the strain drug misuse has on the body, which leads to a ‘drying’ effect that shows in the skin and hair.
Thinning hair, where intense hair fall of up to 50 per cent affects the whole scalp, is also a commonly reported side effect. This is caused by a hair loss condition known as telogen effluvium and, though more common in women, when the cause is drug abuse or addiction, it can affect both men and women equally.
For long-term drug abusers this can become chronic, which can mean a minimum of six months for hair to start regrowing, as opposed to a maximum of six months for standard telogen effluvium.
Professional telogen effluvium treatment can help to accelerate the hair growth process in both instances, once the underlying cause of the shedding – for instance, drug addiction – is under control.
Can lead to permanent hair loss
Whilst hair loss from drug abuse is likely to last roughly around 6 to 12 months, it can also trigger permanent hair loss conditions in some people.
Men with a genetic predisposition to male pattern baldness and women who are predisposed to female pattern hair loss can find these conditions triggered following telogen effluvium. These forms of hereditary hairloss only affect the top of the scalp and the hairline. As such, if their onset overlaps with telogen effluvium, this may become obvious as the hair thinning around the temples, top of the scalp and crown area may appear worse affected than the rest of the head.
For men and women in whom signs of genetic hair loss are already present prior to any drug-related issues, these can intensify. This is because the extra stress placed on the body by addiction can have a negative effect on blood circulation to the scalp, depriving the hair follicles of necessary nutrients for healthy hair growth. In turn, this can speed up the rate of hair shedding.
People suffering from any form of drug addiction should focus on achieving safe and healthy rehabilitation, though once clean any related hair loss may linger. This can be a constant and highly visual reminder of their struggles. Those wishing to discuss options for regrowing their hair and preventing baldness can find support and appropriate treatment advice from understanding specialists at an established clinic. Whether the problem is telogen effluvium, chronic telogen effluvium, male or female pattern hair loss – or even a mixture of these, a personalised hair loss treatment course can be tailored to the needs of each individual and their medical requirements. Various hair growth boosters can be included in these courses, such as the one-a-day hair growth supplements Hair Vitalics which, whilst not a substitute for a balanced diet, can help men and women who are worried about the nutritional needs to their hair.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.