People often think about how addiction impacts our brains, emotions and cognitive abilities. Though we all know that substance use has physical consequences, it’s tempting to think about addiction as solely a disease affecting the mind. However, once you truly understand how addiction affects your immune system, you begin to grasp how deeply substance use disorder impacts your body.
A compromised immune system invites a host of disastrous medical conditions. A person struggling with an addiction isn’t just more likely to catch a cold; they’re potentially vulnerable to life-threatening chronic conditions. Before we address how substances impede our bodies from fighting off infections and diseases, let’s talk about the importance of our most important line of defense.
Appreciating the Importance of Your Body’s Natural Defenses
The immune system fights off and limits infections. It identifies “dangerous” cells and attacks them to keep us healthy. When our defense systems detect fungi, viruses or bacteria, they use several tools to shut them down. Our bodies constantly encounter foreign and native “threats” that our immune systems are protecting us against.
When our defense systems aren’t working properly, we become more susceptible to the foreign agents present in our bodies. Immune systems can miss threats or misidentify healthy cells as dangerous ones, creating a response that makes us sick. When a person’s immune system attacks healthy cells, they have an autoimmune disorder. These diseases also open the door to other illnesses because the body is unprepared to ward off actual health threats.
Chronic substance use can weaken or lower the body’s normal defense responses, making a person with substance use disorder less equipped to fight off infections. The ways in which people ingest substances also make infection more likely. For example, smoking any substance irritates the lungs. Cocaine or methamphetamine can leave a person severely dehydrated. In other words, the side effects of drug use leave a person vulnerable to infectious diseases. Let’s take a closer look at how an addiction affects your immune system.
How Alcohol Addiction Affects Your Immune System
One of the primary ways that alcohol affects a person is through the liver, which is the organ responsible for filtering out waste and chemicals in our body. When the liver is damaged, it becomes less capable of filtering out dangerous substances and is more vulnerable to infection. In addition to causing serious health complications, liver diseases also compromise the body’s ability to fight off other diseases.
People with an addiction to alcohol are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including unprotected and unsafe sex. This increases a person’s chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
How Opioid Addiction Affects Your Immune System
Opioids can greatly affect the response of a person’s natural defenses. Potent opioids like morphine decrease the immune system’s ability to identify and fight unhealthy cells. If someone is already sick and takes opioids, they can curb their body’s ability to fight off their illness. This is a major concern for those who have turned to opioids to treat pain from a serious medical condition.
Just like with any other substance, the ways in which opioids are taken present their own risks. Most notably, injecting opioids makes people more vulnerable to infectious diseases, such as HIV.
Opioids are just two of the many substances that can impact the immune system. Cocaine, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills and even marijuana can alter how the body responds to perceived threats.
Sicknesses Compound a Person’s Addiction
When considering how addiction affects your immune system, think about the indirect consequences of a compromised system. People with substance use disorders might constantly be sick, even if their illnesses are relatively minor. When a person is ill, they might feel depressed, which is a trigger for substance use. In short, substance use makes people feel bad, prompting them to turn to substances. It’s a cycle that traps people into a constant state of feeling sick.
At BRC Recovery, we’ve helped countless clients with treatment and recovery. One of the most common things we notice in our clients is a dramatic improvement in physical health. Ridding the body of harmful substances allows it to perform optimally. This greatly affects how a person feels mentally and emotionally. It’s only after a person becomes sober that they realize just how significantly addiction was affecting their physical and mental health.
Contact BRC Recovery to Take the First Step in Recovery
People with substance use disorders have often forgotten how strong they can be and how good they can feel when they are substance-free. We help those who think they are treatment resistant or beyond help. We know that recovery is possible for everyone who truly wants it.
BRC Recovery offers several addiction treatment programs and recovery services. If you want to learn more about living a better life, contact us at 1-866-905-4550 to speak to a BRC Recovery admissions specialists.