How Drugs Affect the Heart [Guide]
Different drugs affect people in different ways. But in the area of how drugs affect the heart, almost every drug causes damage in some way. The damaging effects can range from an abnormal heart rate to a heart attack.
In this article, we’ll look at how drugs affect the cardiovascular system. We’ll see how the effects of drug abuse on the heart are very harmful. If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, you need to stop now to ensure that your heart will not be damaged further. Please contact us at 614-502-6247 for information about rehab centers in your area. As we will see, your life may be at stake.
Don’t Ignore Cardiovascular Concerns
An increased heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and higher blood pressure are normal cardiovascular effects of drug use. “Cardiovascular” refers to anything relating to the heart and blood vessels. It is clear that those who abuse drugs must also face the fact that their cardiovascular system is being abused.
This, of course, is in addition to all of the other medical issues associated with drug abuse. But clearly, heart problems are a fast track to very serious concerns. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in America. Drug abuse puts even more pressure on the heart, making serious diseases or fatalities all too likely.
Injection drug use is especially detrimental as it can cause collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Collapsed veins are a common result of chronic use of intravenous injections, and they are particularly common for drug users since the injecting conditions are usually not ideal. Heroin addicts often suffer from venous sclerosis or the loss of functioning veins.
Too Many Injections
Different drugs can affect the body in different ways, but the cardiovascular effects of drug use almost always involve constricted blood vessels, higher blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and an increased risk of heart failure. Most of these symptoms seem to be present and consistent with the abuse of almost any illegal drug.
If you are wondering “can drugs cause an enlarged heart,” the answer is also yes. Drug use can also lead to infections of the heart lining or valves, leading to an increase in the size of the heart. This in turn leads to a higher risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), strokes and heart attacks.
CAD is apparently very common among intravenous drug users. Blunt needles and improper injections can lead to all kinds of problems for the veins.
The list of drugs that can damage the cardiovascular system includes essentially every well-known illegal drug. The heart and cardiovascular system can be affected by the use of cocaine, heroin, inhalants, khat, LSD, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), Mescaline (Peyote), methamphetamines, PCP, and steroids, as well as synthetic cannabinoids. That list should sound familiar.
Consider also how many of those drugs are actually used intravenously. Often, addiction sufferers have to inject themselves with a needle in order to get the drugs into their bodies. Those constant injections can begin to wreak havoc on the veins. Repeated injections of drugs, particularly in the same veins, can ultimately lead to collapsed veins and bacterial infections like endocarditis. It’s clear that the prolonged use of illegal drugs is nothing but bad news for your heart.
Smoking? Drinking? Same Heart Issues
But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is safe. There are other addictions that can lead to cardiovascular problems just as illegal drugs can. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease drastically, including stroke, heart attack, and vascular disease.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) explains in detail how smoking affects heart health. “When you breathe in air from the atmosphere, the lungs take in oxygen and deliver it to the heart, which pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body through the blood vessels. But when you breathe in cigarette smoke, the blood that is distributed to the rest of the body becomes contaminated with the smoke’s chemicals. These chemicals cause damage to your heart and blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.”
The chemicals in cigarette smoke cause atherosclerosis and thickened blood in the arteries. This disrupts the flow of blood through the arteries and could lead to peripheral artery disease, creating insufficient blood flow to the arms, legs, hands, and feet. It also creates blood clots, affecting vital organs like the heart and brain. Blood clots could ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke.
In some rare cases, smoking can lead to an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is a bulge in the aorta (the main artery that distributes blood) that sits in the abdomen. When that aneurysm bursts, it could be fatal.
Drinking alcohol can be harmful to the heart as well. This is especially true of binge drinking, which can increase the heart rate and cause blood pressure to rise quickly. But even casual drinking, when habitual, can lead to heart issues. That’s because drinking increases the number of toxic substances in the blood supply. These substances can also block arteries and create blood flow problems.
The ‘Heart Attack Drug’
Those who are still curious about how drugs affect the heart may want to know, are there drugs that cause heart attacks? A 2012 study demonstrated the dramatic effects of cocaine on cardiovascular health. This Australian study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, documented cardiovascular issues in seemingly healthy regular cocaine users long after the immediate effects of cocaine wore off. The researchers behind the study called cocaine “the perfect heart attack drug.”
They demonstrated how cocaine users had higher rates of multiple factors associated with higher risks of heart attack and stroke. Cocaine users had a 30 to 35 percent increase in artery stiffening. They also had higher systolic blood pressure and an 18 percent greater thickness of the heart’s left ventricle wall. This would indicate that cocaine use can lead to an enlarged heart as well as the danger of a heart attack.
The powdered form of cocaine is either inhaled through the nose and absorbed through nasal tissue, or injected into the bloodstream. As we’ve seen, injecting toxic materials into the bloodstream leads to blood flow issues and eventually to heart problems.
The Australian study demonstrates that even so-called recreational cocaine users may end up with higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and thicker heart muscle walls than non-users. And because cocaine acts as a stimulant, it increases adrenaline throughout the body, which leads to an increase in blood pressure. This adrenaline rush can lead to chest pain, which is a common reason for cocaine addicts to visit the emergency room. Clearly, cocaine isn’t friendly to the human heart.
Reversal of Fortune?
Is there any good news about how drugs affect the heart? There is for those who are willing to change their lifestyles. Studies have found that stopping drug use will not only stop the heart damage, it can actually reverse the damage. According to Sciencedaily.com, “a study on individuals with cardiac issues in treatment for methamphetamine abuse found that symptoms and cardiac function improved significantly in patients who discontinued methamphetamine use.”
Versus those who continued with their meth use, patients who stopped using had a lower incidence of death as well as of non-fatal stroke and heart failure. The rate of recovery depends on factors such as the specific drug, how long the drug has been used, and any pre-existing medical conditions. Regardless, a study like this provides hope for those in recovery.
Of course, stopping the use of illegal drugs isn’t easy. But the good news is that there are people qualified to help addicts do just that. Rehab centers across the country make it their business to help each addict overcome their cravings and get back in control of their lives.
For long-time addicts, some form of medical detoxification (detox) will probably be necessary to get the cardiovascular system back in shape. That’s because years of addiction can lead to a buildup of harmful chemicals in the body.
Detox is a process that rids the body of these harmful substances (usually toxins) left behind due to the addiction. This will clear up the blood flow and reduce the chances of blood clots or damage to the heart. It also helps eliminate the body’s physical dependence on alcohol or whatever substance the body has been consuming. Finally, detox is a chance for health care workers to analyze your situation and determine other treatment methods that can help you.
Help Your Heart, Help Yourself
Many addicts will attempt to go “cold turkey” and stop using drugs on their own. Unfortunately, this seldom works, due to the nature of addiction and the underlying problems associated with addiction.
Quitting drugs on your own can actually be harmful. The body becomes so used to having drugs in its system that drug users suffer painful withdrawal symptoms when they quit. These symptoms are a sign that the body is trying to get back to normal. But because they are so uncomfortable, most addicts give up on trying to get better.
A rehab facility is well aware of the withdrawal symptoms that addicts have to go through. The staff tries to guide each patient through the process as safely and comfortably as possible. In most cases, they have medicines that can ease the symptoms. They also have trained counselors who can guide each patient throughout the detox stage, letting them know what to expect and that they will be fine. These resources are very valuable and not available to those who try to detox on their own.
When you look at how drugs affect the heart, you can clearly understand why it’s necessary to stop using them. Your life is at stake in so many ways because of prolonged drug use. More than 67,000 people died from drug abuse in America in 2018. You may even remember someone whose life was lost due to substance abuse issues. But you don’t have to be another statistic. There are steps you can take to rise above your addiction – whatever it may be – and step into a new life.
Regardless of what is controlling your life now, it need not control your life forever. Calling for help could be the first step for you. A rehab center can help you in your time of need. If you or a loved one needs help, please contact us today at 614-502-6247 to learn about rehab facilities in your area.
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