Drug abuse can affect all of your body’s vital organs, from the brain, spinal cord and nerves to the heart, lungs, digestive tract and kidneys. Using drugs can weaken your immune system, breaking down your natural defenses to illness and infection. Many drug users have nutritional deficiencies or dehydration because they’ve neglected their basic needs while using. When you enter rehab, one of the most important objectives is to evaluate your medical status to see if you have any health concerns caused by drug abuse. If your body has been damaged by drugs or alcohol, helping you restore your health will become one of the goals of your treatment plan.
Education and relapse prevention are also crucial components of the rehabilitation process. In rehab, you’ll learn about the ways that drug abuse can affect your body and mind. By learning about the health hazards of addiction, you may avoid these serious medical conditions:
- Neurological problems
- Heart attack and stroke
- Respiratory failure
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Liver disease
- Kidney damage
- Some forms of cancer
Drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and alcohol act directly on the central nervous system, affecting vital processes like breathing and heart rate. Central nervous system stimulants and depressants also affect higher neurological functions, like learning and memory, as well as the centers of the brain that control emotion and pleasure. Using drugs like cocaine and meth can alter your brain’s production and processing of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates a sense of happiness and contentment in response to certain activities.
Some of the cognitive changes caused by drug use are temporary and will usually resolve after a period of abstinence. Other changes may be more lasting and may even permanently affect your ability to learn, make decisions or remember. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that drug abuse may cause changes in the brain that set the stage for addiction and relapse.
In addition to altering emotion and pleasure, drugs may interfere with your ability to make decisions, exercise judgment and plan for the future. In other words, drugs themselves may drive you to pursue a high in spite of the destructive personal consequences.
Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, Ecstasy or PCP may continue to trigger hallucinations or delusions even after you’ve gotten clean. LSD use can cause hallucinatory episodes called “flashbacks.” This hallucinogenic drug can also lead to a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, which is characterized by frightening, nightmarish experiences. Drugs like methamphetamine may cause psychotic episodes during the intoxication phase and may contribute to long-term disorders like depression, anxiety or paranoia.
Heart and Lung Damage
The heart and lungs, which are vital to blood circulation, respiration and oxygen utilization, are often damaged by heavy drug abuse. Stimulants like cocaine and meth elevate the heart rate and blood pressure, contributing to conditions like heart attack and stroke. Chronic cocaine use can cause permanent heart damage by restricting the flow of blood to the circulatory system, warns Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Even young cocaine users are at risk of a heart attack due to the way the drug cuts off the heart’s oxygen supply.
Inhaling crack, marijuana, heroin, meth and other drugs that can be smoked can harm the respiratory tract and raise your risk of lung disease and cancer. Chronic marijuana smokers may be at risk of pulmonary damage because of the way smoke is held in the lungs in order to get a high. Opiate depressants like heroin depress the cough reflex and slow down breathing, making you more susceptible to lung conditions like pneumonia. The heavy use of cocaine may result in respiratory failure as well as cardiovascular damage, according to the University of North Carolina.
Liver and Kidney Problems
Your liver and kidneys perform valuable functions by detoxifying the body, clearing your system of waste materials and dangerous substances. When you drink alcohol, much of this chemical is metabolized by the liver. Over time, drinking heavily can cause cirrhosis, a condition that interferes with the liver’s natural ability to cleanse your body. Using meth and inhaling chemicals like aerosols and solvents can harm the liver as well as the kidneys, which detoxify your system through the process of urination. Signs of liver or kidney failure may include:
- Darkened stool or urine)
- Changes in the amount of urine you produce
- Swelling in the face, hands and feet
- Pain in the abdomen or lower back
- Skin discoloration or itching
- Shortness of breath
Liver and kidney failure are both serious conditions that may lead to chronic disability or death. If you’re at risk for damage to these vital organs, you’ll need medically supervised detox to ensure that you remain stable while the drugs clear your body.
Problems Caused by IV Drug Use
Intravenous (IV) drug use can lead to problems like collapsed or inflamed veins, abscesses and septicemia, or blood poisoning. IV drug users who share needles or use unsterile equipment are at risk of life-threatening blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released these sobering statistics on the health risks of IV drug use:
- IV drug use is responsible for up to 60 percent of cases of hepatitis C, a disease that affects the liver.
- Up to 80 percent of IV drug users contract hepatitis C within a year after they begin to inject drugs.
- IV drug users who don’t seek treatment for their addiction are six times more likely to contract HIV than users who go to rehab.
- IV drug use is one of the primary factors contributing to the transmission of HIV.
There is a strong correlation between IV drug use and unsafe sex. When heroin, cocaine or meth is injected, the intensity of the high can lower inhibitions and block judgment, causing users to take risks that they normally wouldn’t consider. From local skin infections to systemic poisoning and communicable diseases, using drugs intravenously can have a severe impact on your health.
Many heavy drug users are malnourished and dehydrated when they seek treatment. Alcohol, cocaine, meth and other illicit drugs can interfere with the body’s use of nutrients, deplete your system of essential vitamins and minerals and destroy your appetite for healthy food. According to the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), these nutritional deficiencies may be a sign of illicit drug abuse:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar
- Vitamin B deficiencies
- Low levels of important minerals like zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium
- Protein deficiencies
- Fluid imbalances
- Excessive weight loss
Central nervous system depressants like heroin, morphine or OxyContin can cause chronic constipation. In opiate withdrawal, vomiting and diarrhea may lead to low levels of potassium. The gastrointestinal side effects of drug use can lead to inadequate absorption of the nutrients you need to ensure proper brain, nerve and muscle function. When you enter a drug rehabilitation program, one of the first steps is to help you recover your nutritional status and replenish the fluids and nutrients that have been lost due to drug abuse.
Restoring Your Health
The health problems caused by drug use aren’t always reversible. However, you can lower your risk of disease, infection or injury considerably by getting the help you need to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism. Detoxification is just the initial phase in restoring your physical well-being. Nutritional supplementation, dietary counseling, medication therapy and preventive education can help you feel stronger, more vital and capable of taking on the challenges of recovery. This is the kind of care we offer here at Axis – comprehensive treatment to help you get well. Call us for more information.