The Heart and Substance Abuse

February is “Heart Month” because Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th and is associated with love and affection. The American Heart Association also uses February to raise awareness about heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. During February, events are organized to promote heart health and encourage people to take steps to reduce their risk of heart disease. Lifestyle changes that promote heart health include eating a healthy diet and regular exercise and avoiding the misuse of drugs and alcohol.

We know that the use, misuse, and abuse of alcohol and drugs can harm heart health, then again, the abuse of bacon can also hurt your heart health! All things in moderation! The most common drugs of abuse are alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines like cocaine, and narcotics such as heroin and fentanyl, although tobacco should also be included, we will leave that to another group to discuss.

Marijuana, much to the surprise of many people can affect the heart! The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, can cause an increase in heart rate that can last several hours. Marijuana can also cause blood vessels to relax or widen, which may result in a reduction in blood pressure which may lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting, particularly in a naïve user. For these reasons, individuals with a history of cardiac or other health issues and older individuals should consult with their physician before beginning the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana.

Moderate alcohol consumption considered no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men has generally been thought to confer some benefits on the drinker. There is currently heated debate about whether any amount of alcohol is safe or promotes health. There is no dispute that excessive alcohol use can have serious consequences for the drinker, and someone who is a regular heavy drinker exposes themselves to risk if they very “suddenly” terminate their drinking. Alcohol can harm the heart in several ways.

Alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Alcohol can cause irregular heartbeats which can increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Long-term heavy use of alcohol can damage heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and reduce the ability of the heart to pump effectively.

High blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and damage to blood vessels in the brain caused by alcohol use can increase the risk of stroke.

Finally – alcohol is loaded with empty calories and can lead to weight gain and obesity increases the risk of heart disease. 

Amphetamine drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine can have serious negative effects on the heart.

Cocaine and methamphetamine can cause a rapid and strong increase in heart rate, which can put a significant strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Amphetamine drugs can cause irregular heartbeats, including ventricular tachycardia, a fast heart rate originating in the lower chambers of the heart that can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which can be life-threatening.

Cocaine and methamphetamine can cause a rapid and significant increase in blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Because these drugs are vasoconstrictors, they can narrow the blood vessels reducing the blood flow to the heart and other organs and increasing the risk of heart attack, and stroke.

Regular use of these drugs can cause damage to the heart muscle making it difficult for the heart to effectively pump blood (cardiomyopathy).

The use of these drugs can lead to addiction and potential overdose.

Narcotics such as heroin and fentanyl can also have a profoundly negative effect on the user and their heart.

In opposition to the effects of amphetamine drugs “speeding up” the heart, narcotic drugs may slow down the heart reducing the flow of blood and the oxygen it carries to all parts of the body increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Heroin and fentanyl can cause irregular heartbeat, a very slow heart rate (bradycardia), and ventricular tachycardia, which can be life-threatening.

These drugs may cause a significant and rapid increase in blood pressure which may result in damage to blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Heroin and fentanyl can cause the heart to stop beating.

The use of drugs, such as these, by injection, increases the risk of bacterial infection of the heart resulting in inflammation of the lining of the heart or endocarditis.

Very few things we do have no risk at all. If you choose to use drugs or alcohol understand the risks and use them in a way that creates the least risk.

Call to Action:

Visit The American Heart Association website. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack – for men and women – they are different.

Take a CPR class and learn how to use a defibrillator.

For help with a drug or alcohol problem:

Call your organization’s Employee or Member Assistance Program

Call the 988 Mental Health Hotline

Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA)Treatment Locator website

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