The Impact Of Drugs And Addiction On Heart Health

Substance abuse can have many devastating impacts on the body. From serious, often life-threatening overdoses to chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer, there are many ways substance use disorders (SUDs) can lead to a lifetime of pain, discomfort, and frequent doctors’ visits. One area that substance abuse can be particularly harmful is the cardiovascular system. Addiction can have long-lasting impacts on heart health, which is why understanding the risks and potential consequences of substance abuse is extremely important.

Drugs And Heart Health

Depending on the type of substance being abused, how long someone is using for, and a variety of other environmental factors, the impact addiction can have on heart health varies. Below is a more in-depth view on some of the most commonly used substances and their effects on the heart.


Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in most tobacco products and vaping devices. While research has found that the use of nicotine vaping devices, which has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, does not result in overwhelming risk to cardiovascular health; experts agree the physical and mental effects of vaping are just as dangerous. Non-combusted nicotine still causes some adverse effects to the heart, which is why doctors recommend patients at risk for heart disease avoid it altogether.

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 (elevated LDL levels)
  • Increased blood clot risk
  • Blood vessel cell damage
  • Increased plaque buildup


Though it’s more infamous 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 three 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): when a blood clot completely blocks blood flow to the heart, which can be fatal if left untreated
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): the inability of the heart to pump blood correctly to all other parts of the body

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, including the way some American subcultures glorify binge drinking, may facilitate diseases like these.

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Cocaine is probably the drug best known for deleterious effects on the heart. As the body metabolizes cocaine, an array of ensuing effects may result in one or more serious medical emergencies. The more someone uses cocaine, the higher their chance is for these events to occur; this is especially true if the user is 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.

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • QT prolongation (increased time between heartbeats)
  • Thrombosis (blood clots)
  • Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries)
  • Endothelial dysfunction (damage to blood vessel cells)
  • Microvascular disease (shrinking of the arteries)

Unfortunately, diseases like these lead to serious cardiac events. Irregular heart rhythm, 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 SUD is damaging one of the most important organs in their body.

Prescription And Illicit Opioids

The opioid epidemic spread opioids throughout the US, with people from all walks of life becoming addicted to prescription opioids. The largest risk of opioid use disorder is that of overdose, but it’s far from the only risk.

Research surrounding opioids’ impact on the heart found that they contribute to someone’s likelihood of suffering from arterial fibrillation. Because of the widespread use of these medications, researchers are worried that there may be 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 as well. 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 the patient’s 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. Researchers examining meth and its effect on the body have found that heart disease is the second largest killer of meth users behind accidental overdose. Like alcohol, meth causes 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 arrhythmia
  • 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 meth use lead to death through overdose, but it also 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 help is sought before it’s too late.

Keeping Your Heart Healthy

If you or a loved one is struggling with a use disorder, contact a treatment provider today. Some drugs pose a more serious threat to heart health than others, but any drug dependency will damage your health eventually. Don’t wait for a negative consequence to feel like you need change. There are treatment options available.