Using recreational drugs can be damaging to a person both physically and mentally. It can also damage relationships, careers, and families.
When the side effects of illegal drug use are talked about, it’s typically related to how these drugs affect the brain and behavior of the user. But the reason drugs are so bad is because they degrade the body as a whole.
Prolonged drug use can manifest other problems within the body in addition to the brain and emotional side effects directly associated to the drug. One of the biggest concerns experts have is the connection between illegal drugs and heart disease.
Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease
Illegal drugs can have long lists of negative side effects. Cardiovascular issues are usually included in that list. Most drugs can cause some type of negative effect on a user’s cardiovascular system. The heart problems associated with these drugs can range anywhere from elevated heart rate to heart attacks. If the drugs are injected, then drug use can lead to even more complex issues like collapsed veins or bacterial infections in heart valves and blood vessels.
Drugs like heroin, cocaine, and other forms of amphetamine put a lot of undue stress on the cardiovascular system. They put a user’s body into “hyperdrive” causing the systems of the body to work harder than they were intended to. This puts a lot of pressure on the heart to work overtime, and can ultimately result in a heart attack.
The Effects of Marijuana
Marijuana, arguably the most widely-used illegal drug, may also lead to heart disease. Doctors have seen increased risk of cardiovascular problems in marijuana users, but there hasn’t been enough hard evidence to definitely link the two just yet.
Researchers say that this increase in cardiovascular risk may have something to do with the fact that the majority of marijuana users use tobacco products as well.
The Effects of Cocaine
The American Heart Association has dubbed cocaine “the perfect heart attack drug”. Even users who claim to use the drug only “recreationally” can develop heart problems from the drug. Occasional users were shown to have higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and thicker heart muscle walls which can all lead to heart attacks.
When discussing illegal drugs and heart disease, the conversation quickly turns to cocaine. This is because cocaine is the drug most-associated with visits to the emergency room. In 2011, cocaine was said to be responsible for 40.3% of drug-related emergency room visits.
Doctors fear the effects cocaine can have on the heart because it can attack the heart in two ways. First, cocaine triggers an irregular heartbeat which makes the heart unable to pump blood.
Second, cocaine also constricts the blood vessels when it enters the bloodstream. This creates a situation similar to an artery blockage where blood is unable to reach the heart.
Experts have even started to see links between cocaine use and damage to heart muscle tissue. The high level of adrenaline caused by cocaine use has been linked to striped lesions in heart muscle tissue. These lesions are called contraction bands.
The social nature of cocaine can also be dangerous. The drug is typically consumed as part of a party/nightclub atmosphere that can involve drinking. Alcohol combines with cocaine and the effects of both drugs are magnified in the body.
Effects of Opioids
Although cocaine is the main culprit, other drugs can have equally destructive effects on the heart. Opium, for example, can also cause lasting damage to the cardiovascular system. Unlike cocaine, opium works to slow the heart rate down and can even cause complications with breathing.
Heroin, related to opium, can also cause heart problems in users. Using heroin can cause weakened muscles, slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, and even increase the risk of endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining.
On the surface, it may seem like a simple slowing of the heart rate, or breathing, is not much to be concerned about. However, in extreme cases, the central nervous system can be slowed down to the point where breathing stops, resulting in death. The problem with this is it’s hard for doctors to diagnose. Therefore, a lot of cases of this extreme central nervous system depression are just written of as general overdoses being the cause of death.
Effects of Amphetamines
Abusing amphetamines can cause heart issues such as irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, myocardial infarction, and cerebral infarction. This class of drugs is used to treat disorders like ADHD, but has strong addictive qualities. Similar to cocaine, they are part of the stimulant family of drugs and force the body into a state of hyperactivity.
In addition to cocaine and alcohol, experts are becoming increasingly concerned with the combining of substances of all types. The problem of illegal drugs and heart disease becomes worse when alcohol or prescription drugs are introduced. Some of these prescription drugs may initially be intended to stop heart issues, but when mixed with alcohol or other recreational drugs, they have the exact opposite effect. Making a person more susceptible to damaging, potentially fatal, heart problems.
In recent years, more of the American population in their 50s have started to use recreational drugs. The amount of drug users in the 50-59 age group tripled from 2002 to 2012. When drugs like cocaine and others force the heart of an elderly person to work even harder, it can lead to increased cardiovascular issues. From 2004 to 2009 the number of substance abuse-related hospitalizations increased over 130% in people aged 55-64.
What to Do
The foods we eat, and the way we live as Americans, expose us to higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Abusing illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol only adds to that problem.
Keep your risk as low as you can by eating right, exercising daily, and avoiding stress. Also talk to your doctor about any possible pre-existing heart conditions that may require treatment. And if you, or someone you know, is using illegal drugs they may have to take the time to consider what it’s really doing to their body.
Too often, we think in the short term. There are more to illegal substances than meets the eye. It’s easy for users to focus on getting their next fix, and not think long-term about how what they’re doing is going to affect their body. That’s why in addition to a healthy lifestyle and prescription treatment for other medical issues, individuals may need to consider addiction counseling as part of their “heart healthy” plan.
If you should decide that today is the day to start your recovery, we are here to help. Reach out to us with any questions, or for any additional resources you may need.