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How Cocaine, Heroin, Meth, & Opioid Addictions Destroy the Immune System

How Cocaine, Heroin, Meth, and Opioid Addictions Destroy the Immune System

Everyone “knows” that drug addiction is harmful. Even many addicts are still sub-consciously aware of it, despite their dependency. However, the reality of how substance abuse destroys the body far surpasses cautionary directives to avoid using drugs. Addicts often don’t look or feel well, because their immune system has become incredibly compromised. Although any form of substance abuse takes its toll, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription opioids create the worst effects on the immune system.

Immune System: Our Body’s Protective Mechanism

effects of drugs on the immune systemThe immune system is a complex organization of bone marrow, the spleen, lymph nodes, the thymus, and white blood cells (leukocytes and lymphocytes). It protects against germs and viruses best to ability, when we’re sleeping and eating properly, and doing everything we can to take care of ourselves. Under the ordinary circumstances of fighting off a cold or combating stress, the immune system typically bounces back with the help of rest, orange juice, herbal teas, and power foods. But drug addiction packs a one-two punch of increasing the risks for serious illnesses and infections, while sapping the ability of our immunity to defeat it.

Cocaine Prohibits Antibody Production

effects of cocaine on immune system

In addition to being linked to heart disease, cocaine interferes with the production of T-lymphocytes and white blood cells. This offsets the antibodies’ effectiveness at maintaining a healthy system, and leaves plenty of room for invasive bacteria and germs to thrive. Addiction to this party drug can result in the following, which without a normally functioning immunity system, are difficult to heal or overcome:

  • Sinus infections

  • Torn septum

  • Dehydration

  • Respiratory distress

  • Toxic shock

  • Unsafe sexual practices (contracting STDs)

Heroin: Long-Term Organ and Immunity Damage

effects of heroin on immune system

Symptomatic of other addictions, a dependency on heroin typically leads to the high becoming more important than anything else. Thus, the user pays less attention to proper nutrition, sleeping well, personal hygiene, and treating signs of illness or infection. Whether snorted, smoked, or injected, heroin impairs the liver, which is responsible for flushing toxins out. The weakened organ and tissue systems may not be able to help addicts battle:

  • Skin disorders, rashes, and abscesses at injection sites

  • gastrointestinal disorders

  • Hepatitis B or C, HIV, AIDS, or sepsis contracted from shared/unclean needles

  • Perforated septum

  • Pneumonia

  • Ulcers

Amphetamines: Severe Illnesses and Infections

Amphetamines are a mixed lot, as the category includes illegal crystal meth, considered more dangerous than other drugs, and prescriptions such as Adderall (generally prescribed for ADHD). It’s not unusual for addicts of these narcotics to feel extremely fatigued, or to experience severe bouts of flu-like illnesses that seemingly never go away. The cycle of highs and crashes in the bloodstream creates unbalanced immunity, raising the dangers of :

  • Lung infections

  • Damaged/missing teeth, and mouth and gum infections

  • Skin infections from scratching or picking (meth withdrawal symptoms, that “crawling bug” feeling)

Prescription Opioids and Opiates Disrupt Cells

effects of opioids on immune system

Both opioids (partly to fully synthetic) and opiates (derived from poppy) are prescribed to combat pain, yet this method of managing discomfort also suppresses natural cell production. This usually doesn’t present much of a concern if the doses are used within its recommended limits, but when addictions develop, so does the tissue damage. Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Percocet, and morphine abuse aggravate:

  • Potential growth of cancerous cells

  • Impairment to the central nervous system, the immune system’s partner in sustaining optimal health

  • Damage to the T, NK (natural killer), and B cells: all the hard-hitting antibodies that fight tumors and other life-threatening conditions


It’s devastating to watch a loved one struggle with drug addiction, and how gravely they’re putting their health, wellness, and life in danger. Contact us to find out more about our comprehensive treatment programs and therapies, and how we can hopefully help them on their way to recovery.

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