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How Substance Abuse Increases the Risk of Infection, Even Coronavirus

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While the coronavirus has yielded staggeringly high infection numbers around the world and even in the United States, the death rate has remained in single digits for most people and extremely low for healthy younger individuals. However, for the elderly and those with immunocompromising conditions, the risk of severe complications and even death is exponentially higher. While we are still early on in the epidemic, and we don’t know much, it is very clear that those with medical problems are at the most risk.

To that end, it is extremely important that substance abusers and their loved ones prioritize recovery and abstinence in the form of appropriate medical and therapeutic treatment as soon as possible. Research performed on substance abusers show a strong correlation with abuse and complications associated with flu and other infectious diseases. We expect this is no different with coronavirus. Ultimately, the problem rests in the fact that drugs of abuse and alcohol can suppress the immune system, making the body less able to fight off infection.

The role of drugs on the immune system

Those who abuse substances can substantially increase the risk of infection due to a weakening of the immune system. We see this very clearly in injecting drug users who happen to contract Hepatitis C or HIV, make it more difficult for them to recover and often leading to a life or death situation. Addicts and substance abusers may put themselves in a more compromising position, for example not practicing proper physical distance in during the coronavirus pandemic. Many addicted individuals also ignore their personal health which can lead to a further reduction in effectiveness of the immune system, allowing other infections to take hold.

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The role of alcohol and the immune system

Over the course of their lives, the vast majority of adults in the United States will try alcohol. Up to 30% of adults are estimated to never take a drink again. In most cases, continued alcohol consumption is light to moderate. And while we still don’t fully understand the reasons, many studies posture that light to moderate drinking may actually have beneficial effects of the body including lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and even stroke.

However, millions of Americans abuse alcohol – drinking heavily or binge drinking. Interestingly, once someone drinks heavily, they begin to increase the risk of many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular problems, stroke, liver issues and more. This does not take into account the social, emotional and mental ramifications that can come with sustained heavy use. Sustained heavy alcoholism can turn the body’s immune system against itself – known as an autoimmune disorder. It may also affect white blood cells which are important in the detection and elimination of infections.

Indeed, studies show that those who drink heavily increase the risk of pneumonia by two and up to nine times. This risk is important because even run of the mill upper respiratory conditions such as a cold or the flu – or more recent infections such as coronavirus – can spread lower, into the lungs leading to severe complications and hospitalization.

And during exceptional times such as these, where infection-related pneumonia has been leading cause of death for people suffering from the coronavirus, the first step is difficult, but simple – connecting with a treatment center such as Destination Hope or a helpline to see what options you have and to learn more about the treatment process.

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