More than 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year—one in every four deaths nationwide.1 February is Heart Health Awareness Month, designated to help raise awareness about this disease and spread knowledge about prevention.
One of the biggest dangers to a healthy heart is substance abuse. In this article we’ll explore how abusing alcohol or drugs can damage your heart.
Alcohol and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. This condition, also known as hypertension, happens when the pressure of the blood in arteries and other blood vessels becomes elevated to unsafe levels. If the high pressure isn’t controlled, it can also affect other vital organs, such as your kidneys and brain.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a condition called alcohol-induced hypertension.2 This type of high blood pressure develops because of the chemical and neurological changes that occur when a person drinks excessively for an extended period of time.
Drug Abuse and the Heart
Many different drugs, when abused, can damage the heart. These drugs include cocaine, opioids, methamphetamine and others.
Cocaine and Heart Conditions
Cocaine decreases the heart’s metabolism, which can lead to heart disease.3 Using cocaine can also make the heart beat too rapidly, which can cause cardiac arrest or heart failure.
Opioids and Coronary Artery Disease
According to research, opium is an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease. Opium-related drugs, such as opiates and opioids, can also cause heart damage. The most common cause of death in people who abused opioids was coronary artery disease, second only to accidents.4 Opioids weaken the chemicals the body produces to protect the heart, while simultaneously increasing the proteins and lipids that can be harmful to your health.
Methamphetamine Use and Cardiomyopathy
Methamphetamines, in the form of crank or ice, can be devastating. Cardiomyopathy and cardiac failure may develop following chronic meth abuse.5 Chronic meth use can also lead to the development of hypertension.
Cardiomyopathy is a medical condition where a normal heart muscle can thicken, stiffen, thin out, or fill with substances that normally aren’t found in the body. The result is a reduced ability of the heart muscle to pump blood. This reduction can cause irregular heartbeats, backup of blood into the lungs or other parts of the body and even heart failure.5
Bath Salts and Heart Problems
Synthetic cathinones, commonly known as bath salts, are man-made stimulants containing a substance called cathinone. Consuming bath salts can cause rapid pulse, high blood pressure and chest pain.
Get Help for Substance Abuse—Before You Damage Your Heart
If you or someone you love has an alcohol or drug abuse problem, it’s important to get help as early as possible to prevent or reduce damaging effects to the heart, as well as to avoid other negative health effects. Reach out to a mental health professional or addiction treatment specialist for an assessment to explore your recovery options. With the right care, any existing issues, such as cardiomyopathy or coronary heart disease, can also be managed.