Effect of Drugs and Alcohol on the Immune System
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against disease, infection and viruses. If this system is damaged, reduced or does not work as efficiently as it should, a person will become sick with illness from infections or viruses. Drugs and alcohol are known to inhibit the immune system which means that those who abuse substances will find it takes longer and they are affected by infections much longer than other people.
When the immune system is deficient and a person abuses drugs or alcohol, they have an increased risk of contracting certain diseases such as pneumonia, respiratory infections, blood-borne viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, if they have a predisposition to cancer, heart disease or kidney disease, these conditions are more likely to occur.
Effect of Binging on the Immune System
Exhaustion as a result of binging on drugs or alcohol can be a significant cause of illness. When a person binge drinks, they may cause their body to go into toxic shock from the large amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. Secondary infections or damage to the liver can have life-long consequences.
Binging on drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin can cause people to become dehydrated and ill. The impact of dehydration, mental and physical exhaustion, sleeplessness and lack of food can have a long term impact on a persons’ health. The immune system will be at a high risk of being overrun with infection and disease and anecdotal evidence suggests that many people will have flu-like symptoms after a binge.
Alcohol and the Immune System
Alcohol is known to cause long-term serious consequences for a persons body and mind. There are many diseases that are known to be caused by alcohol consumption which is chronic or dangerous. Alcohol also impedes the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease. Excessive alcohol consumption or long term alcohol abuse can lead to immune deficiency in two ways – nutritional deficiency and reducing white blood cells.
Alcohol impairs the normal digestion of nutrients due to damage caused to the cells in the digestive tract and by interfering with the secretion of enzymes needed for digestion. Alcohol can also impede the ability of the liver to store important vitamins. It has also been shown that drinking too much can prevent the body from absorbing enough protein.
When consumed in excess, alcohol can reduce the ability of white cells to kill germs. High doses of alcohol suppress the ability of the white blood cells to multiply and inhibit the action of killer white cells on cancer cells. This can lead to the development of life threatening conditions such as liver cancer or liver disease.
Marijuana and the Immune System
Smoking marijuana, or any substance, can have a negative effect on the immune system. It has been found to cause damage to sensitive cells in the lungs and increase the risk of contracting diseases and bacterial infections. Marijuana is known to contain more carcinogenic chemicals than tobacco smoke and because of the way the drug is inhaled deeply and held for longer than cigarette smoke, these chemicals can cause severe respiratory damage. Some research has suggested that the active chemical in marijuana, THC, impairs the immune system from fighting disease. However, this research is not conclusive and further testing is required.
The inhaled smoke from marijuana is often combined with tobacco which is known to cause significant damage to lungs, including the leading cause of lung cancer and emphysema. Pulmonary infections, pneumonia, respiratory infections and cancer are all real risks associated with smoking marijuana. Chronic bronchitis, impairment of air passages, inflammation of lungs and development of abnormalities in the bronchial lining and lungs are also commonly associated issues.
Methamphetamine and the Immune System
The dangers of methamphetamine are well known, however the drug has potentially a very serious impact on the effectiveness of the immune system. Research is suggesting that the drug may increase a person’s susceptibility to infection by crippling immune function. This may also be deadly if a person is already infected with a life threatening disease like hepatitis or HIV and cause cancers to spread quicker in the body.
Methamphetamine is also known to dry out mucus membranes, particularly in the mouth and rectum which can increase a persons’ exposure to infection and disease. The drug can cause people to have significant weight loss, chronic insomnia and respiratory problems which all expose a persons immune system to deficiency and attack by disease.
MDMA, Club Drugs and the Immune System
MDMA use has long been anecdotally linked to infection of influenza and bacterial infections. There is, however, no scientific evidence to support that the use of MDMA or other club drugs cause these infections or suppress the immune system. What is known, however, is that exhaustion and dehydration associated with the use of these drugs in nightclubs, at festivals and other music events does increase the risk of being infected with influenza or developing a cold. This is because these side effects lower the body’s ability to fight infection until normal energy and water levels of the body are returned.
HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and the Immune System
Illicit drug use has inherent risks that includes serious health problems such as hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There is no cure for the disease AIDS but there are some treatments available for the virus HIV. Individuals infected with HIV are at risk of contracting other, life threatening diseases because the virus weakens a persons immune system.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection that lead to chronic disease including liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Drug users are at higher risks of contracting HIV and AIDS due to a lowered immune system and because some users share drug injection equipment that may be infected with the disease. The reason that these diseases can be so easily spread is because infected blood is drawn into the syringe and then injected along with the drug by the next user of the syringe.
Once a person is infected with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, they are at risk of developing further complications because of the affect of the disease on their immune system. Cancer, pneumonia, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal problems, neurological conditions and tumors are some of the known linked diseases. Skin infections, ulcers, tetanus, septicemia, thrombosis and respiratory diseases are all common symptoms of a lowered immune system because of these diseases.