How Drug Use and Addiction Can Affect Your Immune System

Written by Robert Castan | Edited By Editorial Team

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Addiction and Immune System: How

They Affect Each Other

There are many ways addiction and immune system affect each other.  They range from immunosuppression, weakened lungs, sleep deprivation, and lack of good nutrition.  They can even affect how your thought processes work. Everyone should be cautious when taking drugs – whether they are prescribed or not. It’s always good to familiarize yourself with a wide variety of drugs and the corresponding effects they have on your immune system for each.

The immune system works as the body’s protection system. It helps to ward off infections and diseases, it’s responsible for filtering everything which enters the body.

The immune system is comprised of cells, organs, and proteins, it’s the most complex system in the body

The immune system works by:

  • Neutralizing pathogens (germs, such as bacteria and viruses, and eliminating them.)
  • Recognizing and neutralizing harmful substances within the body.
  • Fighting its cells which have changed. (i.e. Cancer)



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How Opioids Affect Your Immune System

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers are available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.

Common names among others are:

Happy pills, Vikes, Percs, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, Oxycontton.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in its website warns:


All opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to addiction, overdose incidents, and deaths.”

Both prescribed or without prescription use of opioids compromise the perfect functioning of the immune system. Vast evidence suggests that chronic administration of opioids decrease the proliferative capacity of macrophage progenitor cells and lymphocytes.

First off, most people who take prescription opioids do not become addicted or suffer an overdose, but opioids get riskier when they are used for something other than what your doctor prescribes, if they are used more frequently than prescribed, or if they are expired.  Prescription painkillers are meant to be short-term fixers; extended use can signal trouble.

A person can get very defensive about their drug use. Opioids can exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. If you are using a drug for a longer period or in larger amounts, that increases your risk of addiction.

The most recognized drug addiction in recent times is the addiction to opioids and heroin.  No matter how you ingest it, whether it is oral, smoking, or intravenously, they all pose a potential threat to your health.  Opioids suppress your immune system and affect three types of the body’s natural defenses – the T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells.  This seriously affects how your body addresses pathogens that can harm you. Using opioids or heroin can also affect the time it takes your body to heal since your immune system can’t function correctly.  This can lead to additional healing time for open or unhealed sores.

Intravenous use can also introduce bacteria directly into the blood stream and cause infections to weaken structures within the body.  Intravenous use can also lead to the transmission of Hepatitis C. If an epidural was performed, a blood infection can appear near the weakened spot. This may lead to an epidural abscess.  To correct this, back surgery is necessary to clean out the infection that caused the pain to the user, leading to a diminished ability to walk and stand for long periods of time. Not a pretty picture, is it?

How Cocaine & Meth Affect Your Immune System

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The purified chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, was isolated from the plant more than 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, purified cocaine was the main active ingredient in many tonics and elixirs developed to treat a wide variety of illnesses and was even an ingredient in the early formulations of Coca-Cola®.

Today, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse but can be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses.

When it is misused, cocaine impairs the body’s defense system for at least 4 hours. It can’t be likely the immune system returns to normal shortly after that time. But even if the blunted immune response lasts only a few hours, it makes it more likely that an infection like HIV or just a common cold can take hold.


Meth or methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The misuse of methamphetamine remains an extremely serious problem in the United States. It is the drug that most contributes to violent crime.

The consequences of Meth misuse are terrible for the individual, Psychologically, medically, and socially. Its abuse can cause damage to the cardiovascular system and a serious detriment of the immune system, contributing to increased transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Socially it has devastating effects threatening whole communities, causing a new wave of crime, unemployment, child neglect or abuse, and other social ills.

According to researches from the San Diego State University, the Northwestern University of Medicine, and SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University.

Immune system damage from methamphetamine use combined with the damage to the immune system by HIV increases the risk for COVID-19

Cocaine and Meth

Cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to severe dehydration and exhaustion not to mention skin irritations.  This too can lead to unhealed or slow healing sores in the nose and nasal passages which is caused by a suppressed immune system.

Cocaine and meth are both capable of altering key functions of your immune cells which have been identified as making the body more susceptible to cancer and infections.  It has been found to also affect the thymus gland (thymocytes) which detrimentally affects the production of T-cells and causes decreased immune responses and increases disease and tumor growth.


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How Alcohol Affects Your Immune System

Alcohol exposure and particularly chronic heavy drinking affect all components of the adaptive immune system. By default, alcohol makes it harder for the immune system to gear up and defend the body against harmful germs.

The immune system consists of many parts that work together to defend the body against invaders. Alcohol intake can kill normal healthy gut bacteria, this may cause damages to the intestines, the lung mucous, and liver among other organs.

In the lungs, for example, alcohol damages the immune cells and fine hairs that have the important job of clearing pathogens out of our airway.

“If the cells lining a person’s airway are damaged from alcohol, then viral particles, such as COVID-19, more easily gain access, causing immune cells, which fight off infection, to not work as well, leading to increased overall risks of more severe diseases as well as complications,” said Dr. Alex Mroszczyk-McDonald, a practicing family physician in Southern California.


Chronic substance use can lead to both short- and long-term changes in the brain, which can conduct mental health issues including paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and other problems.

Substance use disorders commonly occur with other mental illnesses, it’s often unclear whether one helped cause the other or if common underlying risk factors contribute to both disorders.

Addiction and immune system problems go hand by hand.  While your body suffers from the effects of the substance in your immune system, other areas of your life may suffer from addiction as well. Your immune system isn’t the only thing affected when you use drugs or alcohol. It takes a toll on your relationships, your decisions, your finances, and your overall health.  Deciding to stop using drugs or alcohol is your first step to your recovery journey. The compassionate staff at SpringBoard Recovery can help.

Alcohol's toll

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Alcohol's toll

How Ecstasy Affects Your Immune System

Ecstasy is not absent of immune deficiencies as it causes many ailments. It can lead to increased body temperature which then leads to sweating, teeth clenching while sleeping, cramps, depression and paranoia.  Ecstasy can also cause hallucinations and blurred vision. While this drug is not as addictive as cocaine or methamphetamine, it is just as deadly.

Drug addiction can lead to abnormal vital signs

How Marijuana Affects Your Immune System

Marijuana or cannabis has been known as the “gateway” drug until recently. While it has been proven that CBD has some beneficial effects and many places in the US and Canada have legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, there are still detrimental effects of using this drug.

Marijuana can cause changes in perception, increased heart rate, not to mention chronic cough and other health issues.  While there are immediate and long-term effects of the use of marijuana, we are still awaiting more research to either condemn or approve the use of the drug for the masses.   The science is scrambling to catch up.

Synthetic marijuana is not really cannabis but they are a chemical compound that binds to the same receptors in the brain.  They are 2-100 times more potent than marijuana, and can cause vision issues, kidney damage, agitation, and psychosis just to name a few of the effects.  These can all lead to a depressed immune system. It also has the other effects much like marijuana such as high blood pressure, lung damage and much more.  Attempting to stop using marijuana isn’t easy either, as It also has significant withdrawal symptoms.

How Smoking Affects Your Immune System

Smoking any substance can lead to asthma or COPD and then turning to chronic bronchitis and emphysema.  Weakened lungs and immune deficiencies often lead to the necessity of using oxygen full time which limits your ability to function normally.  Portable oxygen tanks are usually delivered, but you must drag them with you if you go out or to functions. The new oxygen generators help with mobility; however, the cost is often prohibitive.


Many think that smoking drugs is less dangerous than other methods, however, you only get one pair of lungs and the damage that you can cause is massive.  No one wants to be coughing and hacking the rest of their life and being more susceptible to pneumonia. Drug addiction causes abnormal vital signs like increased heart rate, high blood pressure, respiration, chest or lung pain.  It can also cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. This can lead to extreme dehydration and immune disorders that are linked to drug use.

Stop Using Drugs and Drinking and Heal Your Body

Addiction and immune system problems go hand in hand.  While your body suffers from the effects of the substance in your immune system, other areas of your life may suffer from addiction as well. Your immune system isn’t the only thing affected when you use drugs or alcohol. It takes a toll on your relationships, your decisions, your finances and your overall health.  Making the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol is your first step to your recovery journey. The compassionate staff at SpringBoard Recovery can help. Contact us today.


Author: Robert Castan
FEBRUARY 22, 2019

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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