The most dangerous side effect associated with drug abuse is addiction. This is a chronic, degenerative disease that can take away a person’s financial health, emotional security, mental health, and positive sense of self. In short, it’s a devastating disease. But people who abuse drugs can also develop an entirely different set of physical disorders.
Two of the most prominent physical disorders associated with drug addiction impact the liver. This vital organ is responsible for filtering out all of the toxins that might enter the body, so it plays a major role in processing drugs of all sorts. But there are a number of very serious viruses that can damage the tissues of the liver, and these illnesses have been closely linked to specific types of drug abuse.
Hepatitis B is one such virus, and it can cause a form of damage that can seem so small that it’s easy to ignore. People might go about their business with the virus for months or even years, and they might spread that virus to other people through shared needles or sexual contact. Without treatment, the virus can become chronic, and that can result in severe liver damage. While there is a vaccine available that can prevent the infection, a study in the Western Journal of Medicine suggests that only about 10 percent of drug users have been through this series of vaccines.
Hepatitis C also impacts the liver, and unlike hep B, there is no vaccine available to prevent this particular virus. It’s also considered a more serious form of hepatitis, as the damage it causes can be so significant that people who get the virus are forced to have a transplant in order to stay alive. It’s also a remarkably common disorder among people who abuse drugs via needle, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that about 50 percent of current cases of this disorder are caused by the use of drugs via needle.
These two transmittable diseases are quite serious, but they’re not the only types of problems drug users can develop. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, have also been associated with a drug use habit. In some cases, users get the disorder by sharing needles with one another, but in other cases, users develop these disorders by having unprotected sex with people who are infected. A study in the journal AIDS and Behavior suggests that injection drug use is most commonly associated with the development of a sexually transmitted disease, but some do develop the disorder via sexual contact.
In addition to these health concerns, people who use drugs can also develop microbial-based infections, including:
- Necrotizing fasciitis
- Streptococcal disease
Researchers writing in the Journal of Medical Microbiology suggest that these infections might be more common in drug users who have HIV, as this disorder tends to weaken the immune system and allow microbial disorders to ravage the body at an accelerated rate, but they’ve also been linked to using dirty needles in dirty environments. People who don’t keep things clean are plunging bacteria deep into their bodies, and this might allow those critters to take over with breathtaking speed.
More Than Needles
While there is a direct and clear association between using needles to inject drugs and developing a transmittable disease, there’s also an association between using specific types of drugs and developing these disorders. For example, there is a clear association between methamphetamine use and unsafe sexual practices in men who have sex with men. These drugs seem to make the sexual experience seem a little more pleasant and a little less risky, and they might take chances while under the influence that they would never otherwise take. There are no needles involved here, but a transmittable disease could certainly take hold as a result.
In addition, the chaotic life of a chronic drug user could also make transmittable disease a little more likely. People who have lost their homes and their livelihood due to drugs might live in environments that contain rusty nails and other bacterial hazards. The drugs might keep people from moving on, but their environment and their choices might stand behind the development of the disorder.
Some types of transmittable diseases respond quickly to the appropriate level of care. Specific types of sexually transmitted diseases will respond to antibiotics, for example, while those same drugs might be vital in keeping bacterial colonies in check and ensuring that serious medical complications don’t take hold. With this kind of care, people might feel immediately better.
Other conditions might not respond to treatment so enthusiastically, but the right kind of care might make the disease easier to live with. People with some forms of hepatitis might not see a cure in the form of a shot, but they might feel better when they’re eating a diet that’s specifically made to ease the work of the liver. Cutting out alcohol and fatty foods might just make them feel better, and that can make life seem a little more worthwhile.
It Can All Be Managed
Even chronic, frightening diseases like HIV can be appropriately managed, and that might provide relief. For example, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that people who get appropriate HIV care face no accelerated five-year death rate, when compared to people who don’t have the infection. The right care really can make a huge difference, even for disorders that were once considered terminal.
But this kind of care can only be provided when people attack their addictions and gain control over their urges. Most of these treatments involve:
- Daily medication regimens
- Healthy diets
- Adequate hydration
- Appropriate levels of sleep
This isn’t the kind of lifestyle someone with an addiction often sustains, particularly if that person is continuing to expend a significant amount of energy in keeping an addiction fed. Thankfully, many treatment programs can provide help for both addictions and physical ailments. In programs like this, people obtain medical care so their bodies can heal, and they receive psychological assistance for the cravings an addiction can leave behind. Patients might also benefit from receiving supervision, so they won’t dip back into drugs.
Many Foundations Recovery Network programs are capable of delivering this kind of care. If you’d like to find out more about them, or you need to enroll someone you love into a program like this, please call us. Our admissions coordinators can explain what you’ll need to do to get the person you love prepared for care. We’ll help you to find the right kind of program to meet your needs.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.