How Substance Use Affects Heart Health

How Substance Use Affects Heart Health
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February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness for heart disease, the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups. Consider that every 34 seconds, an American dies from cardiovascular disease. In an effort to spread awareness of heart disease, we want to take some time to discuss the effects that drugs and alcohol can have on the heart.

While most people are aware that illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine can affect the heart, they’re often not aware that seemingly ‘harmless’ drugs can have an impact as well. As an example, cannabis (which is legal in many states, including here in California) can cause the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to rise.

Let’s learn more about the effects that drugs and alcohol can have on your heart and whether this type of damage can be reversed.

Alcohol and Heart Health

There’s a popular belief that alcohol, particularly red wine, is good for the heart. But things aren’t exactly this clear cut. While some studies show an association between moderate drinking and a lowered risk for heart disease, it’s difficult to determine cause and effect. Red wine drinkers might be more likely to eat healthier or have higher incomes that give them access to better healthcare.

And, even if red wine were to protect the heart, there are better, healthier ways to get these benefits. You can exercise or eat a diet with more whole foods. Plus, the key word here is ‘moderate,’ which is about one drink a day. Anything more than this is considered heavy drinking, which is linked to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

Opioids and Heart Health

Opioids like heroin slow down or depress activity in the central nervous system, producing a relaxing effect. Researchers have found that people who abuse opioids are at a higher risk for heart arrhythmia, hypotension, heart failure, cardiac arrest and endocarditis. If opioids are combined with other drugs like alcohol, they take an even greater toll on the heart.

Heroin contains toxins that enter the bloodstream, potentially blocking the veins and the flow of blood to the cardiovascular system. As a result, key areas around the heart stop working properly, raising the risk for heart failure and other cardiovascular issues. Those who have a history of heart disease are especially at risk.

Stimulants and Your Heart

Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase central nervous system activity, making you feel more awake and alert. Amphetamines and cocaine are examples of stimulants, but even caffeine and ADHD medications fall under this category. However, when stimulants are taken at therapeutic doses, they are not a cause for concern.

Illicit stimulants like cocaine and ecstasy are a different story. They have been long linked to heart attack, artery wall damage, abnormal heart rhythm and sudden cardiac death. These drugs produce huge spikes in blood pressure and heart rate which are strenuous for the heart and the arteries. It’s also believed that illicit stimulants prematurely age the heart.

Cannabis and Heart Damage

Even though the legal restrictions regarding cannabis are loosening, this does not make the drug any safer. What many people don’t realize is that marijuana can affect the heart by making it beat faster and raising blood pressure. It may also increase the risk for heart attack, stroke and other vascular diseases.

Most of the research we have today on cannabis and heart health involves smoking the drug. More research is needed to determine if it’s the pollutants in the smoke that raise the risk for heart problems, or if it has to do with the THC itself. According to this study, cannabis users are more than 2.5 times more likely to have premature heart disease.

Inhalants and Your Heart

Although inhalants don’t get as much attention as other drugs, they are still a major concern, especially for young people. Using inhalants even once can lead to overdose and death. Inhalants starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat faster and irregularly. They can even cause the heart to stop.

Furthermore, some inhalant-related deaths are thought to have been caused by a condition called ‘sudden sniffing syndrome,’ a type of heart failure that can happen when a user attempts physical exertion after inhaling. Because these drugs are readily available, inexpensive and legal, they are easy for young people to access.

Can the Heart Recover from Substance Use?

The heart is a tough organ, and it can heal after drug and alcohol use. There are times when the damage is irreversible, however. The only way for your heart to repair its damage is by stopping substance use. Your doctor will then be able to recommend an appropriate medical treatment to prevent heart failure and improve long-term outcomes.

Drugs and alcohol might seem to be a temporary escape from your problems, but in reality, they create many more problems down the line. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, contact Pura Vida Recovery today. We have a wide range of services to support your journey to healing, including detox, partial hospitalization, day treatment, intensive outpatient, standard outpatient and aftercare. Contact our admissions department to learn more.