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How a Substance Use Disorder Leaves You Vulnerable to COVID

When the SARS variant COVID-19 hit the United States in early 2020, it soon became apparent that it was coming to a deadly confluence with the ongoing drug and alcohol epidemics. As the coronavirus spread, it became apparent that people with substance use disorder (SUD) were especially at risk.

Below are some of the ways having SUD leaves you vulnerable to COVID. If you feel that you or someone you know might have an SUD, please get in touch with Boston Drug Treatment Centers.

1.) SUDs weaken your immune systemUnfortunately, in some parts of the world, there is a mistaken belief that drinking alcohol can help destroy the coronavirus. The opposite is true. Taking drugs and alcohol regularly will almost certainly weaken one’s immune system, making it vulnerable to COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Many legal and illicit substances act directly on our bodies’ ability to ward off infections. Many substances also indirectly weaken our immune systems by reducing the quantity and quality of sleep and by reducing appetites, both of which have implications for our resistance to disease.

Intravenous drug users who share needles are also at risk of catching illnesses that impair the immune system like HIV. Having these autoimmune illnesses will likely leave one more vulnerable to COVID-19

2.) Smoking any drug leaves your lungs prone to infection

Fake news articles are circulating that claim that smoking one substance or another will help protect the smoker from becoming infected by the coronavirus. This would be incredibly fortunate if it were true. However, studies — and common sense — indicate that smokers will get the exact opposite of the desired protective effect.

Smoking any substance will inflame the mucosal linings of your nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. In this state, they are far more vulnerable to infection, not just from COVID-19, but other harmful microorganisms as well.

This heightened vulnerability doesn’t just hold true for relatively harsh substances like methamphetamines or crack cocaine. Smoking or even vaping cannabis or tobacco is also going to leave one’s lungs less resilient to infection. Any irritation in your respiratory tract tissue will leave it much more vulnerable to different microorganisms.

Another thing adding to the risk is that smoking often involves touching one’s mouth. While it’s now known that touching contaminated objects is not as serious of a risk as previously thought, it may be still dangerous when combined with the smoker’s reduced immune system and more vulnerable mucosal tissues.

3.) SUDs often make you take unnecessary risks

One thing all SUDs have in common is that they compel individuals to take risks to get their drug of choice. Many people with SUD will neglect social distancing, wearing masks, and other health practices in their drive to find and consume drugs. They may even travel long distances just to get their substance of choice, potentially exposing them to the coronavirus.

4.) Drug use can directly affect your body’s ability to survive COVID

Having a weakened or vulnerable immune system is one thing. Being able to survive that infection is another. A regular intake of drugs and alcohol can also affect different bodily functions in ways that make it more difficult to recover from or survive COVID.

For example, opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines can interfere with breathing. Combined with a coronavirus infection, this could lead to the brain not receiving enough oxygen, leading to brain damage and death.

Likewise, chronic stimulant misuse could also reduce an individual’s ability to survive a coronavirus infection. Methamphetamines, cocaine, and prescription stimulant use strain the heart and other parts of the cardiovascular system. Given that COVID also attacks heart tissue, this leaves long-time stimulant users more at risk of death.

5.) Critical services for SUD are at reduced capacity

The pandemic has seen a sharp increase in drug overdose deaths throughout the United States.

Most of these deaths are largely due to the strain the pandemic has put on healthcare services. Overdosing individuals were less likely to receive prompt medical attention during the height of the pandemic, and this is still the case in areas where COVID is still prevalent.

Another reason for the sharp rise in deaths is that recovering individuals were not immediately able to access critical aftercare services. This led to a rise in relapses and fatalities during the pandemic.

Having an SUD doesn’t just increase your risks of catching COVID-19, it raises the risk of fatality and other serious lifelong consequences as well. As such, people with SUDs are more vulnerable to the coronavirus compared to the rest of the general population.

And contrary to what some people might think, there is no evidence that alcohol, cannabis, or other widely consumed recreational substances can prevent or cure COVID. In fact, the exact opposite is likely true. As of now, social distancing and vaccination are the only sure ways to combat this current pandemic. Good luck, and be well!

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