The kidneys make up one of the most important organ systems in the body. They regulate how much water the body has, removing excess water to prevent damage from hyperhydration and retaining water when the body needs more than is ingested. Kidneys also regulate potassium, calcium, and other nutrients in the body by secreting hormones. Most importantly, the kidneys filter waste out of the blood and send it out of the body through urine.
When the kidneys fail, toxins build up in the body and damage other tissues. However, a buildup of toxins in the body can cause renal failure. One of the most common ways that the kidneys are damaged is through substance abuse and addiction.
Intoxicating substances may lead to euphoria, relaxation, stimulation, or other, short-term rewarding effects; however, long-term damage to the brain and body systems, like the kidneys, may lead to long-term medical needs, like dialysis.
Addictive Substances and Kidney Damage
Some drugs of abuse can damage the kidneys more than others. Here are some substances that cause kidney damage or renal failure:
- Alcohol: Although it is legal to drink alcohol in the US if a person is over 21, this substance is very problematic for many people. Alcoholdehydrates the body and raises blood pressure. Both conditions, when they occur consistently, can damage the kidneys.
- Benzodiazepines: When abused, these psychiatric prescription medications can cause rhabdomyolysis, or the breakdown of muscles that damages the kidneys.
- Cocaine: This potent stimulant can lead to rhabdomyolysis, or the breakdown of muscle tissue that poisons the blood and eventually the kidneys. The drug is toxic to the kidneys in multiple other ways, usually involving blood circulation through the organs and how the kidneys are able to filter out toxins to convert to urine. People who abuse cocaine for a long time are much more likely to suffer kidney damage or renal failure than the general public.
- Inhalants: Renal failure can occur quickly due to the amount of toxic chemicals flooding the body when a person inhales substances that are not meant for consumption. This is especially true of the chemical toluene, which is found in paint thinner, correction fluid, and gasoline.
- MDMA: This club drug can cause kidney failure from dehydration, chemical adulterants, and hyperthermia (overheating), leading to muscle breakdown.
- Methamphetamines: Crystal meth and other versions of methamphetamines break down muscles and release toxins into the system that the kidneys cannot filter properly.
- Opioids: Heroin is especially toxic to the kidneys, in part due to the adulterants found in this street drug. However, any opioid drug can cause damage to the kidneys through muscle breakdown.
- Synthetic marijuana: Kidney damage can occur rapidly due to toxins in any synthetic drug, but it can occur particularly quickly due to abuse of synthetic cannabinoids like K2 or Spice. These lab-created chemicals are similar in structure to cannabinoids like THC, but they do not have the same effects on the brain. Because they are made with artificial chemicals, there are many other molecules in them that can be very harmful to the body. Additionally, these unregulated drugs contain vastly different doses of the intoxicating substance, so dosing is nearly impossible, which can rapidly lead to overdose. Kidney failure is one consequence of overdosing on synthetic marijuana.
Heal the Body by Overcoming Addiction
When a person struggles with substance abuse and addiction for a long time, they may damage their kidneys to a degree that the body can’t heal. Entering a rehabilitation program, overcoming addiction, and maintaining abstinence can prevent damage to the kidneys or other organ systems. If a person already has kidney damage, it’s imperative to enter a comprehensive treatment program that can effectively address this co-occurring medical issue.