How Drug Abuse Can Weaken or Suppress the Immune System

When a person struggles with substance abuse or addiction, they may experience several side effects from chronically ingesting these substances. Long-term struggles with alcohol or drugs can lead to considerable damage to many systems in the body, especially the immune system. The immune system may be harmed directly by intoxicating substances, or the way the drug is ingested may contribute to a higher risk of infection, coupled with a lower immune response.

Even if someone who suffers from addiction does not develop more serious problems, like cognitive problems, heart disease, lung disease, or liver failure, harm done to the immune system can lead to serious, recurring, or incurable infections. Some of these infections may cause other long-term problems or lead to death.

Substance Abuse and the Immune System

signs of cocaine use

Some of the addictive substances that can damage the immune system and lead to infectious diseases are described in further detail below.

  • AlcoholDecreased liver and pancreas functioning can lead to immune system problems. Chronic alcohol abuse and pneumonia are linked. Reduced inhibitions associated with alcohol consumption can also lead to sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV or HSV-2, which can suppress the immune system and cause the body to become more susceptible to other infections.1
  • CocaineSnorting cocaine damages mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and lungs, which in turn can lead to upper respiratory infections or a susceptibility to these conditions. Smoking crack cocaine also damages the lungs and can reduce the immune system’s response to lung infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.2
  • MarijuanaThis intoxicating drug affects several kinds of cells in the body, which can ultimately harm the immune system. Smoking marijuana reduces the body’s ability to resist infections from viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. Because of the suppressed ability of the immune system, it may also reduce the ability of an immune system to be able to destroy cancer cells.3
  • Nicotine: As with marijuana and crack cocaine, smoking cigarettes can lead to upper respiratory problems and a lowered immune system response to infections in that area.4
  • OpioidsThis class of drugs includes heroin, morphine, fentanyl, opium, and prescription painkillers. While all narcotics have some effect on the immune system, injecting drugs into the veins increases the risk of viral infections like HIV and hepatitis B or C (due to sharing needles) and bacterial or fungal infections. This is especially dangerous in people whose immune systems are already compromised. Crushing and snorting narcotic drugs can also increase the risk of upper respiratory infections due to damage to the mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and upper lungs.5 Morphine and related opioids have been found to directly impact white blood cells, which can reduce the ability of the immune system to react to diseases.6

How to Fix Immune Deficiencies After Addiction

A major part of recovery from substance use disorder is making healthy choices that support your goal of maintaining sobriety. It is very important to place focus on healing your immune system at this time, as your drug or alcohol misuse has likely impacted it in a negative manner.

Depending on what immune-related issues you are personally experiencing, there are a few things that you can do to improve your immune system, including the following:7

  • Maintain a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables, along with lean proteins, low-fat milk products, and whole grains. Be sure to limit foods that are heavy in cholesterol, saturated fats, salt, and sugar.
  • Strive towards developing a healthy weight. Being too thin or overweight can affect your immune system and other body functions. In particular, obesity can decrease vaccine effectiveness for conditions such as the flu, hepatitis, and tetanus.
  • Be physically active. Engaging in physical activity can improve mood, as well as support an overall healthy lifestyle that coincides with eating well and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Prioritize your sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep each night. Lack of sleep can make your body more susceptible to developing ailments and can hold you back from healing your body post active addiction.

By caring for your body, you are allowing it to recover from the damage that may have been caused while you were using drugs or alcohol. Continuing to practice healthy habits can only improve your immune system, as well as your physical and mental wellbeing.

Overcome Addiction to Help the Immune System Heal

Entering a rehabilitation program to overcome addiction can help the body heal. Medical professionals can treat infections like pneumonia, STIs, or other diseases. Conditions like HSV or HIV that are incurable can also be treated, allowing the person to live for extended periods of time without further harm from the disease. Some harm done to the immune system or other body systems may be reversed when the person becomes sober, so prompt treatment is key.

Get Treatment for Addiction at Sunrise House

talking to a loved one with cocaine use disorder

If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, do not let one more day go by without reaching out for help. By calling our drug rehab in Lafayette at , you will be connected with a kind and compassionate admissions navigator who can answer all of your questions, including those about insurance and rehab payment options.

You can even get started on your recovery right now by filling out our to have your insurance verified.

Do not wait. Call us at Sunrise House right now.

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