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How Drugs and Alcohol Can Cause a Compromised Immune System

How Drugs and Alcohol Can Cause a Compromised Immune System

COVID-19 is here. Anyone with a compromised immune system is at a higher risk of developing complications from the disease. There’s a lot of concern for elderly individuals who often have weaker immune systems and co-occurring medical conditions. However, those who use drugs or alcohol may have a compromised immune system as well. At Rockland Recovery, our team understands this and wants patients and their families to be informed about the effects of drugs and alcohol on a compromised immune system.

Our Rockland Recovery alcohol addiction treatment program and drug addiction treatment program provides the support some people may need to begin their recovery journey. If you or a loved one may benefit from our addiction rehab center in Massachusetts, reach out to our team today by filling out our online form or calling 855.732.4842. Our substance abuse treatment programs may be the key to you getting back on the right track and avoiding the adverse effects of drugs and alcohol.

COVID-19 Clinical Features

Many people who contract COVID-19 will have a mild illness, with a small percentage contracting the disease but remaining asymptomatic. Most healthy individuals who catch the virus will experience acute respiratory illness. Symptoms of mild illness include:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry or productive cough
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

However, in some cases, the disease becomes much more serious. Symptoms of serious illness due to COVID-19 include:

  • Severe pneumonia
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lower oxygen levels
  • Respiratory failure
  • Organ failure

Compromised Immune System with Alcohol Use

Alcohol can result in a compromised immune system due to a few factors. First, alcohol lowers the number of white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are one of the immune systems’ first defenses. When something that doesn’t belong on the body, like a virus, is detected, these cells work to destroy the foreign invader.

Alcohol will cause red blood cells to clump together, blocking smaller blood vessels. This resulted in reduced oxygen levels and lowered immune functioning.

Three or more alcoholic drinks a day are believed to impact the immune system negatively. Binge drinking or drinking to the point of intoxication will also cause a compromised immune system.

Opiates and Immune Function

Opiates have been shown to reduce immune function in many studies. They affect the immune system itself, as well as change the release of certain hormones, known as corticoids. IV drug use seems to make opiate users particularly susceptible to a compromised immune system. They also cause an increase in growth factor b, which is an immunosuppressive cytokine. IV drug use also greatly increases the chances of contracting diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, which also severely weakens the immune system.

Snorting and Smoking Drugs

Snorting drugs is a common route of administration. Most drugs of abuse can be snorted, including opiates, benzodiazepines,  and stimulants. This includes drugs in powder form like cocaine and heroin and prescription pills like hydrocodone and Adderall. Snorting the drug causes it to enter the bloodstream faster than taking it orally. For drug users, this can result in more intense effects with smaller amounts of the drug.

In addition to the risks of the particular drug, snorting drugs can cause a compromised immune system. The nasal passages are one of the body’s best defenses against airborne diseases. The nasal passages contain mucus that traps foreign particles, including viruses. It also contains enzymes and antibodies to destroy viruses and bacteria before it enters the respiratory tract.

Snorting drugs damages the nasal passages, upsetting the delicate balance that functions as a defense for the respiratory system. This makes germs more likely to get past the nasal passages and into the lungs.

Smoking anything, from tobacco to crack cocaine, increases your risk of lung infections. The lungs and nose both have tiny hairs, called cilia. These hairs help filter out foreign particles like viruses and bacteria before they can make you sick. Smoking appears to damage or paralyze the cilia, making them unable to sweep away the particles.

Address and Overcome the Effects of Drugs and Alcohol Addiction at Rockland Recovery

Drug addiction often results in a compromised immune system due to many factors. Many people who are stuck in the endless cycle of addiction may feel as though there is no hope for a lifestyle free from addiction. However, with the guidance of addiction specialists and therapists, recovery is possible for those who are ready.

If you are struggling with addiction, now is the perfect time to focus on your mental and physical well-being. Deciding to seek drug and alcohol rehab can help you live a healthier, happier life. Contact Rockland Recovery today by completing our online form or calling 855.732.4842 to learn how we can help. Our team is ready to get you started, but the first step is up to you. Reach out to our Rockland Recovery team today.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


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If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to request a confidential call to explore treatment options, ask questions, and receive support from experienced professionals. We know taking this first step can be challenging, but it’s a courageous and important part of the recovery journey.

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