Dangers to Your Health from Drug Addiction
The health risks of drug addiction read like a sobering laundry list. There’s no way around it; using drugs is a dangerous behavior. Most people don’t even know the full extent of dangers that all drugs—marijuana included—pose. Fortunately, drug addiction and many of its resulting health problems can be treated with a combination of therapy and medications. Some of drugs’ effects, however, can be permanent. If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, learning about its startling ramifications may be the first step in the path to recovery.
A huge reason for the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, among addicts is sharing needles. When an infected person passes on the needle used to inject heroin or methamphetamine, they’re often passing on the virus as well.
But many addicts also contract HIV after engaging in high-risk, unprotected sex while under the influence of drugs. Illicit drugs lower users’ inhibitions and cloud their thinking, making it difficult to consider the potential dangers. Caught up in the moment, users might have unprotected sex with strangers, behavior they might never engage in while sober.
Because of developments in medicine, HIV is no longer a death sentence. But it’s still a life-long condition that makes normal activities much more dangerous. Infected persons must take powerful medications on a regimented daily schedule, and be conscious of their weakened immune system. They have to be extra careful with their personal hygiene and sexual activity so as not to infect other people. These lifestyle changes are manageable under normal circumstances, but they can be hard for people to maintain while still under the influence of drugs.
Hepatitis C is another disease spread through the transmission of blood and bodily fluids that’s rampant in the drug-using community. In fact, one study found that 60 to 90 percent of people who inject drugs were also infected with hepatitis C.
The disease is particularly insidious, not only because of its prevalence, but because users tend to overlook its flu-like symptoms. Infected users may only think to see a doctor when they notice their “flu” hasn’t lifted after several weeks. Other users may misinterpret the pain and discomfort as withdrawal symptoms, and increase the amount of drugs they’re taking as a consequence. They could then face a higher-than-average risk of overdose.
In some cases, hepatitis C might not even need treatment, but for others, it may cause such severe swelling of the liver that it can result in permanent damage, or even death. Sometimes the injury to the liver is so severe that the person’s life hinges on a liver transplant. Fortunately, this can be mitigated if treatment is started early enough.
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Another condition common among drug users is “endocarditis,” an infection in the lining, chambers, and/or valves of the heart. But unlike HIV and hepatitis C, endocarditis is spread through the germs and fungi on needles, not infected bodily fluids. The germs enter the bloodstream and attach to the heart, where they interfere with cardiovascular function. A heart with endocarditis cannot pump properly, causing the blood to pool in the extremities. Heart attacks or heart failure may follow.
Antibiotics can effectively treat endocarditis… in some cases. In others, surgery may be required to remove the infected tissue or replace the damaged valves that are no longer working. Some people even develop types of endocarditis that don’t respond to antibiotics, and those types are often considered fatal.
Drugs that use needles aren’t the only ones that carry health risks. Marijuana has recently been touted for its health benefits, but the fact remains that it, like any other “smokable” drugs (including tobacco and crack cocaine) contain dangerous carcinogens. In order to achieve the greatest high from these drugs, users inhale the toxic smoke and silo it into the tissues of their mouth, throat, and lungs for an extended period of time. This can lead to cancer of those tissues.
Some forms of cancer can be successfully treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other medications. But, in general, cancer is best treated when it’s in the early stages. Habitual drug users face the risk of not noticing their symptoms or not acting on their suspicions until it’s too late.
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Other Life-Threatening Conditions
Unfortunately, the long-term effects of drugs do not end there. Habitual drug use has been linked to other conditions, including:
- Infections of the heart
- Blood clots
- Kidney damage
- Brain damage
These facts can be hard to swallow, but it’s important to know that all of these conditions can be prevented or effectively treated with early enough intervention. Sharing this information with a loved one may help them realize the dangers of their addiction, but it might not be helpful in convincing them to seek treatment. If they still resist treatment, don’t give up. Other avenues can be tried, with love and compassion, to usher them to the treatment they need.