The kidneys, heart, lungs, and skin are all affected by drug use, sometimes severely so. You'll learn how and also the many different ways by which a person can be treated for substance abuse in this lesson.
Drug abuse leads to a whole host of issues. The most immediate effects result in changes in the way the brain works. Another lesson focused more in depth on why this is the case. This lesson, however, will delve more into the reasons why drug abuse also hurts the other organs in your body, not just the brain, and why. We will also cover important concepts involved in the treatment of drug addiction.
Damage to the Heart and Lungs
Other than the brain, one of the most important structures to be affected by drug use is the heart. The heart is the organ that pumps blood around your body, and the last thing you need is for it to go haywire. One specific example we can look into is cocaine use. Cocaine causes increased levels of chemical signals within your body, chemicals that tell your heart to speed up. This results in tachycardia, which is a high heart rate. But there's more to it than that. These increased amounts of chemical signals also cause vasoconstriction, the constriction of blood vessels, and an elevation of blood pressure. All of these things increase the work rate on your heart and may end in a heart attack and death.
Such a scenario is not very hard to imagine if you liken your heart's pumping action to an air compressor. If you turn the air compressor to full power, you know that it will be more likely to flare out from being overworked. But on top of that, imagine squeezing down on the hose leaving the air compressor. Doing this will make it even harder for the compressor to pump air forward and even more likely that it will fail. This is exactly why people using illicit substances, not just cocaine, may have a lot of heart trouble.
The heart itself is very closely linked to the lungs. It is, after all, the lungs that oxygenate the blood, and one very commonly used drug that causes a ton of lung issues is marijuana. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not a safe drug. Take for instance, the smoke from marijuana. Marijuana smoke contains many toxins, some in higher levels than in tobacco smoke, and this can increase the risk for developing many different types of airway issues over time. For instance, marijuana use may cause everything from a daily cough to an increased risk for infections of the lung. Studies have also shown that prolonged use may increase the risk for developing lung cancer, even when accounting for tobacco use.
Damage to the Kidneys, Skin, & More
Besides the heart and lungs, another critical site for organ failure as a result of drug use is the kidneys. The kidneys are the structures that filter the blood and, thereby, remove dangerous waste substances from your body and spit it out into the urine. If the kidneys fail, then you can die quickly without medical intervention.
Many different types of drugs, including ecstasy, either directly damage the kidneys with toxic compounds or cause other physiological problems that result in kidney damage. For example, some drugs can cause rhabdomyolysis, the destruction of skeletal muscles. Skeletal muscles are the guys involved in voluntary movement of your body. They're the muscles that make up your legs and arms as opposed to the ones of your internal organs.
Anyways, when skeletal muscles are destroyed, they release a compound called myoglobin. It is a protein that travels to the kidneys and, when it accumulates within them, results in serious damage. Namely, acute renal failure, which is kidney failure of severe and sudden onset. The word 'renal' implies that something pertains to the kidneys.
Now, it may seem that because the heart, lungs, and kidneys are hidden from you, being internal organs and all, they can be just ignored and swept under the rug. If you can't see it, then maybe the damage isn't all that bad. So, I'll end this lesson by focusing on an organ you can clearly see, your skin.
This organ can be affected by drug use and abuse as well, notably by those who use intravenous drugs, drugs that are injected into the veins. Some common problems associated with such drug use are injection site marks as well as really unsightly looking skin infections. But both of these pale in comparison to something known as necrotizing fasciitis, a severe and life-threatening condition where bacteria destroy the body's soft tissues. In three words, it's 'flesh eating disease,' it's very deadly, and results in amputations if the person is lucky to be alive.
Treatment Options for Drug Abuse
In order to avoid these, and so many other consequences of drug abuse upon the body, there are many important steps and processes involved in treating an addiction. Let's go over some of these.
Medications are often used to help individuals with a drug problem. For instance, heroin addicts who have undergone detoxification programs may use a drug called naltrexone. This drug blocks heroin's effects directly at the receptors that heroin targets to produce its effects. These receptors are called opioid receptors. You can think of an illicit substance as a basketball trying to make it into a hoop, our receptor, while naltrexone is like a person using their hands to block the hoop. But besides naltrexone, there are many other drugs that are used to treat drug addictions, such as opiate addictions, including methadone and buprenorphine.
But medication isn't always enough, and a combination approach of medication and behavioral treatment will be necessary. Just like there are many medicines that are used to treat drug abuse, so too there is more than one way to try and change a person's behavior. Positive reinforcement can be used to reward good deeds. Multidimensional family therapy is a way for adolescents and their families to address drug abuse issues. There's also something known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, where a patient learns to recognize and deal with situations that lead to drug abuse.
And of course, there's always residential treatment, something more commonly called rehab. This is typically an effective means to resolve severe addiction issues. Here, a person is entered into a very orderly program at a special institution typically for a long time, between six and twelve months, in order to learn how to live life in a positive and drug-free manner.
All of these treatment strategies are there in order to not only help you live a better life but a healthier one as well by avoiding the consequences of drug abuse upon the body. For instance, cocaine can lead to a heart attack and death because it causes tachycardia, which is a high heart rate, and vasoconstriction, the constriction of blood vessels, and in addition to all of that, an elevation of blood pressure. Using marijuana can predispose a person to a whole host of airway problems, and many drugs, such as ecstasy, can directly or indirectly lead to rhabdomyolysis, the destruction of skeletal muscles. This will then cause terrible consequences, specifically acute kidney failure.
The skin, your body's largest organ, can be affected by drugs as it is prone to things like skin infection. This is minor compared to necrotizing fasciitis, a severe and life-threatening condition where bacteria destroy the body's soft tissues, which may happen to drug users that utilize needles. To avoid these unsightly and painful problems, there are treatment options available at a person's disposal. They include specialized medicines that help to block the effect of a drug. One such medicine is naltrexone.
Besides medication, behavioral therapy and modification are very important as well. Positive reinforcement techniques, multidimensional family therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are just a few examples of ways by which drug addictions can be beaten back. This is in addition to the more famous residential treatment programs, or rehab programs.
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:
- Describe how drug abuse affects the heart and lungs
- Define rhabdomyolysis and necrotizing fasciitis
- Explain the physical consequences of drug abuse on the kidneys
- Summarize medical and behavioral treatment options for drug abuse