Drug Abuse and the Immune System

MastHead Outline
March 22, 2021

The immune system has always been a central aspect of overall health. But especially amid a global pandemic, more people are concerned about whether their immune systems are working as well as they could be. While many factors can affect your immune system, one issue you may not have considered is drug abuse. Let’s take an in-depth look at drug abuse weakening the immune system, so you can take informed steps to improve your health.

The Role Your Immune System Plays

Your body’s immune system is a complex network of cells, proteins and organs. It plays a critical role in neutralizing harm and keeping you healthy. Your immune system has three primary responsibilities:

  • Fighting pathogens that could cause disease and removing them from the body.
  • Identifying and negating harmful environmental substances.
  • Fighting internal threats, such as cancer cells.

When your immune system is functioning well, you could still come down with the occasional cold or infection, but most of the time, you’ll be healthy. Whenever you encounter germs and don’t end up sick, your immune system has successfully staved off the threat. In some cases, you may fall ill once before your immune system develops stronger defenses to combat those pathogens in the future.

Viruses, bacteria and other dangers are all around you. A compromised immune system increases your likelihood of getting sick. You may also take longer to get over an illness. Immune suppression can lead to a host of health problems you may be able to avoid by strengthening your body’s natural line of defense.

How Drug Abuse Can Weaken the Immune System

How does drug addiction impact your immune system’s ability to function? Unfortunately, as with all other aspects of physical and mental health, drug abuse can adversely affect your immune system. The National Institute on Drug Abuse even points out that individuals who have a substance use disorder are more at risk for contracting COVID-19 and experiencing more severe effects due to suppressed immune systems and other possible health issues like lung and heart diseases.

Why and how do drugs undermine your immune system? The answer includes some direct and indirect effects drugs can have, and these explanations also vary depending on the drugs someone uses and how they administer these substances. Let’s look at some possible sources of immune suppression that can result from substance abuse.

1. Drugs Are Taxing on Your Immune System

One of the primary reasons drug abuse weakens the immune system is that these foreign substances pose a direct threat to the body. Your immune system must work harder to neutralize them. Meanwhile, you may encounter other dangers, like viruses or bacteria, and your immune system won’t be able to fight those as effectively because it is already working on counteracting the effects of drugs in your body.

2. Some Drugs Suppress Your White Blood Cells

Most doctors are hesitant to prescribe opioids for a host of reasons, and one of these is the drugs’ suppressant effects on white blood cells. Morphine, in particular, suppresses the activity of three classes of white blood cells: B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. White blood cells are a crucial part of your body’s immune response, so drugs that hold them in check can leave you more vulnerable to disease.

3. Some Methods of Drug Administration Add to the Risk

Specific methods of taking drugs can entail risks of their own.

  • Injecting: Injecting drugs can often repeatedly expose a user to viral, fungal and bacterial infections that weaken the immune system.
  • Snorting: Snorting drugs through the nose can damage your natural mucous membranes, allowing pathogens to more easily enter your body and cause upper respiratory infections.
  • Smoking: Since smoking damages lung health, this method of administering a drug can make a person more vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 or other illnesses that affect the respiratory system.

4. Drug Abuse Often Entails Other Unhealthy Behaviors

Another notable issue is that many people who struggle with a substance use disorder often engage in other unhealthy practices that can affect your immune system. These may include irregular sleeping habits, a poor diet or risky behaviors. Addressing drug abuse can also help someone adopt a healthier lifestyle overall, boosting their immune system in various ways.

Tips for Improving Your Immune System

If you want to strengthen your immune system so you can improve your overall health, consider taking these steps.

  • Exercise regularly: Exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle and a robust immune system. Even a quick walk around the block can help improve your body’s circulation, which encourages elements in your immune system to efficiently move through your body.
  • Improve your diet: A balanced diet is also pivotal to overall well-being. Your immune system needs adequate nutrients to perform at its peak. A healthy diet can also help you avoid obesity, which links to lower immune function.
  • Take immune-boosting supplements: Health researchers haven’t reached a consensus on the efficacy of taking supplements to improve your immune system. However, some supplements have shown promise for potentially bolstering the immune system. Some examples include vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and zinc.
  • Enter a treatment program: Considering drugs’ impact on the body and the immune system, eliminating harmful drug use from your life can be a significant step toward better health. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, consider entering a treatment program that can help you overcome your obstacles and learn to live a fulfilling life.

Begin Your Journey to Recovery and a Healthier You

If you or a loved one is living with an opioid addiction, now is the time to take the first steps toward recovery so you can improve your immune system and enjoy improved physical and mental health. At AppleGate Recovery, we understand that opioid addictions can take hold subtly and can feel like a nearly insurmountable challenge to conquer alone.

That’s why we offer medication-assisted treatment to help our clients comfortably and effectively transition away from opioid dependency and toward better health. We specialize in outpatient treatment and conscientiously protect your privacy, so you can discreetly receive help without a major disruption to your life. As an AppleGate client, you’ll receive counseling to support you on your journey to recovery and help you avoid relapse.

To get started, find a treatment center near you and sign up for a visit or an appointment.