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Coronavirus and drug addiction. What are your chances of having a more severe COVID-19 infection if you have an addiction to drugs and alcohol? Until a few weeks ago, there was little or no concern about a possible interplay.
However, these are strange times!
The world is slowly grinding to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even though we know things will get better, the chaos so far remains shocking. Sadly, there have been multiple fatalities from Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
One question people are asking is – how do I keep myself safe? Due to the global spread of the coronavirus, this is a worldwide concern.
Recommendations for safety include handwashing, wiping surfaces, proper coughing techniques, and social isolation. From what we know, the coronavirus is more severe in the elderly and those with an impaired immune system.
Can your drug addiction affect your immune system? My answer to this is a resounding yes! Impairment of your immunity infers that there is a higher chance of getting infections. Also, when this happens, such conditions are likely to be more severe. As such, there is a possible relationship between the severity of the infection with coronavirus and drug addiction. This means your symptoms of COVID-19 may be more severe if you use drugs and alcohol heavily.
Experts warn that this pandemic is capable of infecting 40-70% of the human race. Thus, almost anyone can get the infection.
There are many reasons to consider quitting your drug use. Infection with the coronavirus is yet another one!
At this time, we do not know very much about the specifics between coronavirus and drug addiction. However, we do know that drug addiction causes poor health, which can impair immune function.
There are different types of coronavirus. These viruses usually infect the nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most of these viruses are not dangerous. We, however, cannot say this for the virus that causes COVID-19.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can attack the lungs – making it particularly dangerous.
Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s. This virus is usually spread the same way as the common cold virus. Most people contract it from infected people coughing and sneezing. It is airborne and also settles on surfaces. Thus, touching contaminated surfaces can lead to infection.
So far, there have been three major coronavirus outbreaks:
- COVID-19: This outbreak started in China in December 2019. The name of the virus is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease it causes is Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): This illness was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Over 800 people have died from MERS.
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): Over 700 people died from SARS in 2003. Its origin was in Asia.
The symptoms for most coronavirus infections are similar to the common cold. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat are frequent. High-grade fever and shortness of breath also occur. The presentation of COVID-19 can be mild to severe.
This illness typically goes away in a few days. However, if it spreads to your lower respiratory tract (windpipe, lungs), it can cause pneumonia. Such damage is more common in the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes), and people with weak immune systems.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Your Immune System
Can drugs and alcohol affect your immune system? The answer to this is yes! As such, there is likely a relationship between the severity of infection with coronavirus and drug addiction.
Perhaps, one of the least talked about effects of addiction is its action on the immune system. Before we talk about this some more, let us briefly describe the immune system.
The human immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs. It is one of the most complex systems in your body. This system keeps out germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It can also fight cancer cells.
The immune system can sense something in your body that could be bad for you. When this happens, it releases specialized cells and chemicals. This reaction helps your body get rid of the intruder. Your body runs more smoothly when your immune system is working correctly.
As you can see, it is vital to have a good immune system. Unfortunately, drugs and excessive alcohol consumption can affect this. They weaken your immune system over time. What this means is that it causes you to have a higher risk of infection.
Substance use can cause dehydration, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue. Also, inadequate diet, lack of exercise, and poor sleep occur with using drugs and alcohol. All of these can severely weaken your immune system.
The possible interplay between the severity of infection with coronavirus and drug addiction is primarily due to the weakening of your immune system. Damage to your respiratory tract (mostly your lungs) is also contributory. These effects lead to an increase in the likelihood of contracting an infection. Additionally, it makes infections more severe. COVID-19 is likely not an exception.
How Do Drugs and Alcohol Affect Your Immune System?
Studies have shown that drugs and excessive alcohol consumption can impair your immune system. Let us briefly talk about these effects.
Effect of Drugs
People who already have conditions that affect their lungs tend to struggle more with the coronavirus infection. As we know, smoking tobacco, cannabis, or vaping can affect your lungs. Because the coronavirus attacks the lungs, it may be a threat to this population. Thus, it is more likely that you will have a more severe infection if your lungs already have damage.
Drugs like opioids, methamphetamine, and cocaine can also affect the health of your lungs and entire respiratory system. These all play into the effects of the coronavirus on drug addiction.
High dose opioids can affect your lung function. These drugs act on your brain to slow down breathing. For this reason, it puts users at risk of overdosing. Infection with the coronavirus can further compromise lung function in such people. This additive effect may make you more likely to have a severe response to COVID-19.
Abusing methamphetamines also has its associated COVID-19 risks. Meth causes your blood vessels to constrict. Thus, damage to the lungs can occur as a result. For this reason, meth users are likely more prone to develop more severe lung damage from the coronavirus.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some prescription drugs like morphine can suppress your immune system. Morphine suppresses three different types of white blood cells in your body. Consequently, there is a weakening of your immune system.
Effect of Excessive Alcohol Consumption
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), excess alcohol consumption can lead to immune deficiency. What this means is that you are more likely to get an infection.
Excessive alcohol use for long periods can also affect your digestive system. This damage happens because of the effects on cells that secrete enzymes for digestion. Additionally, heavy alcohol use causes liver damage. A poor functioning liver has many adverse effects on your body, including vitamin deficiency.
Alcohol can also affect your ability to store protein. Even more dangerous is the effect of alcohol on your white blood cells, a vital component of your immune system.
Other Effects of Using Drugs and Alcohol
In general, people with substance abuse disorders experience unique challenges. Homelessness and poor access to healthcare are more common in this population. There is also a higher likelihood of incarceration.
Substance use disorders present with cravings. These urges usually lead to excessive use and binges. Sadly, you may end up neglecting your need for sleep and food due to this reason. These contribute to the weakening of your immune system.
It is common knowledge that people who abuse drugs have a higher rate of hepatitis, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. These conditions can weaken your immune system. Again, evidence of the likelihood of the severity of infection with the coronavirus and drug addiction.
Another important consideration is the intravenous (IV) use of drugs. This method involves putting substances in a syringe and injecting it into the body. Infection of the skin, the heart, and other body organs can occur with IV drug use. Consequently, a further decline in the immune system can occur.
There is also the issue of stigma. As we know, people with drug and alcohol addiction experience some stigmatization in our society. They also tend to be underserved by the healthcare system.
Social isolation is one of the recommendations to keep the coronavirus in check. As you would expect, this may be more tricky for the homeless and incarcerated.
Preventing infection involves taking precautions. These are similar to those you would take for the common cold.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Washing should last at least 20 seconds. You may also use hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Wipe down surfaces.
- Avoid close contact with people who have an infection. The advice is to practice social distancing to curb community spread.
If you get an infection, the recommendation is to:
- Stay away from others so you do not spread the virus.
- Engage in proper coughing and sneezing techniques.
- Wear a facemask if you are around other people.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Get enough rest.
- Take over-the-counter medicines for a sore throat and fever.
- Consider a humidifier or steamy shower.
If you are still actively using drugs or alcohol:
- Do not stop using cold turkey. Preferably, wean off your drug of choice slowly. Suddenly stopping drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol can be fatal.
- Attempt to get professional help as soon as possible. Treatment is available inpatient or outpatient.
- Get support from family and friends.
- Use one or more of several techniques to control your cravings.
- Consider using a sobriety app to help with your drug or alcohol addiction.
- Avoid sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia.
- Follow up with a mental health provider to assess for and treat underlying mental illness.
- Consider telehealth as an option to reach a professional.
- Continue to work on your sobriety. Remember, your recovery is a journey.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an illness caused by a coronavirus – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). There are different types of coronaviruses. Two other such viruses that have caused outbreaks include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, runny nose, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and high-grade fever. Sadly, this illness can be fatal, and many people have lost their lives to this pandemic.
Some substances of abuse can affect your lungs and immune system. As a result, this can make you more likely to develop severe illness if you contract the coronavirus. Smoking tobacco, cannabis, and vaping can directly affect your lungs. Also, methamphetamine, cocaine, opioids, and excessive alcohol intake are known to suppress your immune system. These effects, therefore, make a severe coronavirus disease more likely.
At this time, we do not know very much about the specifics between coronavirus and drug addiction. However, we do know that drug addiction causes poor health, which affects immune function.
Also, drugs can cause specific damage to organs like the heart, liver, and lungs. The coronavirus primarily affects the lungs. Thus, having issues with your lungs makes you more likely to experience more severe infection with coronavirus.
You must take precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, you should strongly consider getting help for your addiction to drugs and alcohol. Seek professional advice as soon as possible. In the meantime, stay safe!