Substance Abuse, Covid-19, and the Immune System: What You Should Know

The world is reeling from the effects of the Coronavirus, or Covid-19. People are sick and dying, and experts have differing opinions on the best ways to protect yourself. It can all be very confusing.

There is one thing consensus, however. Immunocompromised people are more at risk. Not only are they more at risk of catching the virus, but also of suffering more severe consequences if they do get sick.

For those with a substance abuse disorder, this begs the question — what effect does addiction have on their immune system, and does it raise the risk associated with COVID-19?

Let’s find out.

The Importance of the Immune System

The average person comes into contact with about 60,000 germs per day. However, our bodies have an incredible immune system that is very effective at keeping out and fighting off encroaching illnesses. Because of this, only about 1-2% of those 60,000 germs pose a risk to people with a normal, functioning immune system.

Of course, not everyone has a strong immune system. Immunocompromised people are more susceptible to the germs around them.

Addiction and the Immune System

What we choose to put in our bodies has an effect on its functioning. Think of your body like a car. If you put in bad or dirty gas in its tank, its performance will suffer. If you put in something that wasn’t designed for the car to use as fuel, not only will the car not run, but other systems may be damaged as well.

Types of Drugs and Their Effects

How a certain drug will affect the immune system depends on the drug and the method of ingestion. Injecting illicit substances into the body is not a natural way for the body to ingest them, thus this method is more harmful than ingesting pills.

On top of that, the potential for using dirty needles opens up the user to the risk of hepatitis B or C. Additionally, open wounds at the injection site leaves the user vulnerable to other types of infections.

Snorting opioids can have a detrimental effect on the mucous membranes that help prevent germs from entering through the nose, throat, and upper lungs. This leaves the user more vulnerable to upper respiratory infections — which is especially dangerous with the Coronavirus already spreading so easily.

Caring for the Body

Let’s go back to the example of comparing our bodies with a car. Cars not only need good gas, but also oil, brake fluid, antifreeze, and other additives to keep them in prime running condition.

The human body is similar. The body needs healthy foods, plenty of water, sleep, exercise, and other healthy habits to stay in prime physical condition. Without these habits, all bodily systems, including the immune system, begin to suffer.

man and woman doing yoga

People with a substance abuse disorder are less likely to follow these healthy habits. On top of that, they are putting substances in their body that it doesn’t need and that are wreaking havoc.

It’s very common for substance users to have other chronic diseases and conditions simply because they don’t take good care of themselves.

Addiction and Avoiding the Coronavirus

All this to say, if you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, you need to be extra vigilant with Coronavirus protection. Frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the face, and staying a safe distance away from other people are particularly important.

Those attending a clinic as an outpatient may need to use public transportation to get to their appointments. If this is the case, extra precautions are needed when in groups of people and when touching high-traffic surfaces. If possible, friends or family members should drive patients to their appointments to avoid being in crowded public spaces.

Those who have other chronic conditions are particularly vulnerable. They should follow strict quarantine practices to protect themselves as much as possible. Family members may wish to bring them groceries and necessities so they don’t have to leave their homes.

However, mental health is also very important. Loneliness can lead to depression and a lapse back into drug use. To help avoid this, family members and friends should be vigilant, calling or dropping by frequently to see how they’re doing.

Getting Help

A strong support system is vital for people with substance abuse disorders. The damage their body has suffered leaves them more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, but extreme quarantine measures leave them more vulnerable to the clutches of their disorder.

Getting the right help and having the support of friends and family is more important than ever.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

Related Posts