The medical field has long acknowledged that substance use and addictions can cause neurological and biochemical changes in the body. The physiological harm brought on by substance dependence can damage major organs, such as the heart. People who abuse drugs or alcohol regularly or from an early age have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
How Cardiovascular Diseases Happen
The human heart pumps blood throughout the body, supplying oxygen and nutrients for all of its parts, including the brain. Cardiovascular diseases are when the tissues or muscles of the heart begin to malfunction and suffer damages, leading to reduced heart capacity and oxygen deficiency. Severe consequences may include brain abnormalities and clots within blood vessels. Even mild conditions can lead to increased mortality and reduced quality of life.
Many common substances affect heart health negatively, like alcohol, nicotine, stimulants, and opioid drugs. For example, excessive alcohol intake can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, hemorrhages in the brain, and cardiomyopathy. The last makes it hard for the heart to pump blood, which leads to further damage to the body. Even low to moderate alcohol intake may also be associated with cardiac incidents such as heart attacks or strokes, which permanently weaken one’s heart.
The Opioid Drug Epidemic and Endocarditis
Stimulants and opioid drugs disrupt the balance of certain neurotransmitters, increasing blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, blood clotting, and arterial plaque formation. Long-term use of stimulants and opioid drugs can lead to heart attacks. For example, 25% of non-fatal heart attacks among American adults are associated with cocaine use.
The opioid epidemic in the United States has produced a wave of drug overdose and endocarditis. The latter is a life-threatening condition from bacterial valve infection which can damage heart valves and spread to the entire body. Endocarditis may come from using unsanitary needles to inject opioids, causing the bacteria from the needle to be released directly into the bloodstream. Long-term use of drugs such as cocaine and opioids can lead to a compromised immune system, further increasing one’s risk for valve infection from bacteria.
Illicit Drugs and Heart Diseases
In recent years, the number of people hospitalized because of heart diseases caused by illicit drug use has been on the rise. In fact, substance abuse has been among the top leading causes of hospitalization. Although these drugs are banned from commercial sale in many countries, they are still accessible through many underground channels. Illegal drugs tend to have high tolerance profiles and therefore increase the risk of dependence on these drugs.
There are many warning signs before one develops severe heart disease. Illicit drugs may cause changes in body temperature, high or low blood pressure, abdominal pain, nausea, and abnormal heart rate. Some people who use illicit drugs may experience seizures or respiratory distress. These signs often precede a full-blown heart attack. For example, regular cocaine users may have a higher blood pressure than non-users. Microvascular conditions such as the shrinking of arteries may develop into serious heart malfunctions.
Preventing Addiction and Heart Diseases Among Young People
All these above conditions are generally worse for young people—especially women—who use alcohol and drugs from an early age. Substance use may lead to premature heart disease among young people, who are more likely to develop heart health issues as a result of substances. Many young people today consider recreational drinking, smoking, and drug use to be a way of life or simply a social activity without care for the long-term negative effects they have on the heart.
Parents and educators should be more proactive with prevention and intervention among teens and adolescents. First, parents need to become role models themselves by not using drugs or alcohol, as exposure to these substances at an early age may increase a child’s potential for use in the future. Second, schools and communities need to do a better job educating young people about the potentially life-threatening outcomes of drug and alcohol abuse, such as heart disease.
Heart Health During Recovery
There are many ways to practice self-care for your heart health during recovery from addiction. Measuring your blood pressure from time to time can alert you to abnormalities early on. There are both natural and medical means to control your blood pressure if there is a problem. A healthy diet and regular exercises are the building blocks of a healthy heart. It is also important to manage stress through practices like meditation and mindfulness. Because substance addiction is a treatable disease, heart conditions associated with it are also treatable.
People with substance addiction are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and heart health problems, seek professional help as soon as possible. When you get help sooner rather than later, you or your loved one has a better chance of recovery. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our team of licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can educate and counsel you. Many of our staff have been in recovery themselves, so we understand the challenges on this long journey, especially when it comes to the connection with the malfunction of major organs such as the heart. We can help you design custom treatment plans for your needs. Our full medical residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-step programs. We believe life starts when you get sober, and our facility in Orange County is the best place to do that. Call us at (866) 906-3203.
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