The Notable Risks of Substance Use on the Circulatory System

Last Updated: June 17, 2019
3D Illustration of Human Circulatory System Anatomy

The cardiovascular system, also known as the circulatory system, is made up of the heart, arteries, and veins. The heart pumps blood into the body, and veins take that blood back to the heart. Arteries ensure that blood goes to the rest of the body.

This system is responsible for carrying hormones, nutrients, and oxygen to the rest of the body. The circulatory system also removes carbon dioxide from the system. Two important blood pathways are located in the heart.

  • Systemic circulation ensures that blood goes from the heart, into the rest of the body, and back to the heart.
  • Pulmonary circulation goes from the heart to the lungs and back to the heart again.

Heavy misuse of drugs is known to cause problems with the circulatory system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

How Different Drugs May Affect the Circulatory System

Different drugs have different effects on the circulatory system.

  • Alcohol: Excessive drinking is known to cause cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, this can cause the heart not to pump enough blood (heart failure) or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). It may cause the heart’s valves not to open up as they should.Excessive drinking can cause a variety of heart complications, such as anemia. Alcohol can prevent the body from digesting nutrients at a satisfactory level. Women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop heart disease and other complications compared to men.
  • Cocaine: According to NIDA, cocaine is known to cause cardiovascular problems frequently. This can include cardiac arrest, which is a common cause of death among people who overdose on the drug. Some people may experience irregular heartbeat and even heart attacks. Risks increase if this drug is combined with heroin, alcohol, or other drugs.Cocaine raises blood pressure and increases the amount of work the heart has to do in order to keep the body functioning. At the same time, it causes the capillaries to constrict, meaning that less blood is flowing to the body just as it needs more oxygen.Long-term cocaine use can also trigger an aneurysm, and this is a known cause of heart attacks. Treating health issues can also be difficult when dealing with cocaine users. They cannot use beta blockers, which are known treatments for heart attacks. Drugs that break up clots are best avoided in people who use cocaine because they may appear to have a heart attack when they are not having one.
  • Tobacco: Though this drug is legal, it can indeed have negative effects on the circulatory system. Some of these can include heart disease, heart attacks, issues with the heart’s valves, and even coronary heart disease. Even people between the ages of 26 to 41 may report lessened health quality.
  • Hallucinogens: These can include drugs like LSD, ayahuasca, and peyote. Some of these psychedelic drugs are known to increase or decrease a person’s heart rate while under their effects. Ayahuasca, for example, may increase a person’s blood pressure.
  • Steroids and performance-enhancing drugs: Steroids are the best-known performance-enhancing drug. They can cause irreversible harm to people who take them. Effects can include heart attacks and even kidney failure.
  • Heroin: In addition to problems associated with the drug itself, most people who use this drug tend to inject it. This may cause veins to scar or even collapse, according to NIDA. Other problems it can cause with the circulatory system include infections in the heart valves and blood vessels.
  • Marijuana: People may start feeling marijuana’s cardiovascular effects within minutes of using it. It is known to speed up heartbeat and can raise blood pressure. According to research, the risk of getting a heart attack increases up to five times during a person’s first hour of using marijuana.

Other drugs known to affect the cardiovascular system include MDMA, mescaline, GHB, prescription stimulants, and CNS depressants.

Addressing damage Caused by Substance Abuse

According to a study published in Medical News Today, some former cocaine users still had heart damage even after they stopped using the drug. Still, the study had a wide sample people, some of whom had HIV or even hepatitis C, and some former users had also combined cocaine with other drugs. The study was also conducted 48 hours after each person had last used the drug, and the study found that 83 percent of former users had experienced heart damage.

Another study conducted in Germany showed that former users of methamphetamine improved their health outcomes when they stopped using the drug. Dr. James Januzzi of Harvard Medical School interpreted the study’s results as proof that ending the use of meth did help people reverse some of the heart damage caused by the drug.

Whether or not damage caused by substance abuse is reversible highly depends on the type of drug used.

According to the American Heart Association, steroids may cause the heart to become much weaker than was once assumed. A study conducted by AHA showed that the heart’s left ventricle was weakened after long-term use of steroids. Steroid use was linked to heart complications in younger people who used the drug.

When it comes to alcohol, more research needs to be conducted to determine whether damage to the heart can be reversed. However, there is proof that people who quit alcohol can reverse some of the damage caused to the liver, according to AHA. This certainly provides hope that circulatory and heart issues can be reversed or at least greatly alleviated if one quits drinking.

Treatment for the Circulatory System

image with doctor has hand on male patient's shoulder

Research still needs to be conducted on how the body can reverse damage caused to the circulatory system after drug abuse. It is known that in some cases, such as with prolonged steroid abuse, this may not be completely possible.

Studies show that damage can be reversed in other systems, such as in the brain and liver, once a person stops using certain drugs in some cases. For example, methamphetamine is known to cause damage to the brain. The brain’s reward system may change under the drug’s influence, communication between neurotransmitters may change, and brain cells may die. Only sustained abstinence from the drug can provide a complete picture of how the brain can reverse this damage.

Research published in Clinical Cardiology shows that damage to the heart starts reversing immediately when meth use is stopped. These findings are promising for people in recovery.

According to Science Daily, the Queensland University of Technology conducted a study with a drug called tandospirone that may assist with reversing brain damage caused by alcohol abuse. More research is needed to show exactly this drug can do this.

While more research needs to be conducted on how to reverse damage to the circulatory system from drug abuse, quitting all substance abuse is the first step. Once substance abuse stops, healing can begin.

Last Updated on June 17, 2019
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