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Heart Health: The Effect of Drugs and Addiction

The heart has 4 chambers, 4 major valves, multiple electrical impulse nerves, and it pushes blood throughout the circulatory system. Cardiovascular diseases, including those caused by drugs and addiction are the leading cause of death in the United States, emphasizing the importance of proper heart health for overall wellbeing.

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The Impact of Drugs and Addiction on Heart Health

Poor diet, lack of exercise, poor sleep, and more can cause serious harm to cardiovascular health. While these daily habits pose a common threat to the heart, drug use can be even more dangerous for overall cardiovascular health. The way in which a drug is used or a drug’s effects can cause permanent harm to one’s heart.

Drugs and Heart Health


Research around the use of nicotine in its many forms discovered that, by itself, nicotine doesn’t provide an overwhelming risk to cardiovascular health. Non-combusted nicotine still causes some adverse effects to the heart, which is why doctors recommend patients at-risk for heart disease avoid it all together.

Cigarettes, on the other hand, are verifiably bad for the heart. Chronic smoking leads to:

  • Narrowing and thickening of the blood vessels
  • Increased fat in the blood (triglycerides)
  • Less good cholesterol (raising LDL levels)
  • Increased blood clot risk
  • Blood vessel cell damage
  • Increased plaque build up


Though it’s more famous for its effect on the liver, alcohol has been linked to poor heart health and the development of heart conditions. An analytical study of California health records found links between alcohol abuse and 3 major heart conditions.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF): An irregular or quivering heartbeat which can predispose people to blood clotting, stroke, heart failure, and more.

Myocardial Infarction (MI): Another term for a heart attack, an MI usually occurs when a blood clot completely blocks blood flow to the heart. This can be fatal if left untreated.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): Refers to the inability for the heart to pump blood correctly to all other parts of the body.

  • Diastolic CHF is characterized by the stiffening of the left ventricle, which limits the amount of blood that can enter and leave the heart properly.
  • Increased fat (LDL) in the blood

All 3 of these disorders were linked with alcohol abuse. Each poses a serious risk and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The prevalence and popularity of alcohol in modern American society may facilitate diseases like these to grow with moderate to severe habitual consumption and/or episodic binge drinking.


Cocaine is probably the drug best known for its deleterious effects on the heart. As the body metabolizes cocaine, it causes an array of effects which may result in one or more serious medical emergencies if ignored. The more someone uses cocaine, the higher their chance is for these events to occur, especially if they’re already predisposed to cardiac issues.

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Decreased coronary artery diameter (smaller arteries around the heart)
  • Decreased coronary blood flow

Cocaine is also associated with several cardiovascular diseases.

  • Arrhythmias: irregular heart beats
  • QT Prolongation: Increased time between heart beats
  • Thrombosis: blood clots
  • Atherosclerosis: plaque build up in arteries
  • Endothelial Dysfunction: damage to blood vessel cells
  • Microvascular Disease: Shrinking of the arteries

With all these damaging effects on the heart, it’s no wonder cocaine has its current reputation. Unfortunately, diseases like these lead to serious cardiac events. Irregular heart rhythms, congestive failure, weak pumping, tearing arteries, and infections in the heart are all associated with cocaine. Many of these can lead to death if someone is unaware that their lifestyle is damaging one of the most important organs in their body.

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Prescription and Illicit Opioids

The opioid epidemic spread prescription opioids throughout the US. People from every walk of life found themselves addicted to prescription painkillers. The largest risk of opioid use disorder is the likelihood for overdose, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only risk.

Research surrounding their impact on the heart found that they contribute to someone’s likelihood to suffer from arterial fibrillation. Because of the widespread use of these medications, researchers are worried that we may witness a rise in the incidence of AF throughout the US.

While prescription pills are now linked to heart issues, injection-based drug use has been known to cause serious issues in the heart. One of the most notable cardiac complications is the incidence of bacterial infection in the heart. Infections often occur within the valves of the heart as bacteria, fungi, and/or other germs from the injection site circulate through the body’s blood vessels.

If it’s too late for a treatment of antibiotics, an intravenous heroin user may need to have their infected valves replaced. Once replaced, the valves will be even more susceptible to infection and may require further replacement surgeries if their use disorder isn’t completely managed. Some doctors are running out of patience for patients that come in for multiple heart surgeries while making little effort to combat their injection habits.


While opioids absorb most of the public attention surrounding drugs in the US, methamphetamine use is steadily growing. Research surrounding meth and its effect on the body has found that heart disease is the second largest killer of meth users behind accidental overdose. Like alcohol, methamphetamines cause a wide range of heart issues if abused.

  • Narrowing and thickening of blood vessels around the body, especially the lungs
  • Increased plaque leading to coronary artery disease and possibly heart attack
  • Increased likelihood of Arrhythmias
  • Systolic Cardiomyopathy which weakens the walls of the heart’s pumping chambers and makes it more difficult to effectively supply the body with blood

Not only can methamphetamines lead to death through overdose, but it takes a heavy toll on heart health. Using drugs like meth and heroin creates a laundry list of health risks, all of which can be avoided or minimized if you find help before it’s too late.

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Keeping Your Heart Healthy

If you or a loved one is struggling with a use disorder, please reach out today. Some of these drugs pose a more serious threat to heart health than others, but any drug dependence will damage your health eventually. Don’t wait for a negative consequence to feel like you need change.