How Does Drug Use Relate to the Spread of Infectious Diseases?

People who abuse drugs are at a greater risk of contracting various infectious diseases. This can be due to injection drug use or engaging in unsafe behaviors due to poor judgment.

Often, infectious diseases associated with drug abuse are viral infections, but they can ultimately be any type of infection.

AIDS/HIV

Although having AIDS is not the death sentence it once was, it is still a very serious disease.

People who inject drugs place themselves at a higher risk of contracting HIV than people in the general population.
HIV is transmitted via infected bodily fluids that can include:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Saliva

Common drugs that are injected include opioid drugs like heroin and morphine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and anabolic steroids.
People who inject drugs are notorious for sharing needles, and this is one of the most common ways that HIV is transmitted among drug users. However, HIV is also associated with other modes of substance abuse delivery.
Once a person is infected, they may unknowingly spread the disease to other people who are not drug users.

Any substance of abuse, even alcohol, that lowers your inhibitions and affects your judgment can result in risky behaviors that can lead to the transmission of HIV.
Typically, the transmission of HIV is not due to activities like needle sharing. It is more commonly spread through unprotected sex with an infected person, but it could conceivably involve other methods of bodily fluid transmission.

Drug Abuse May Enhance the Replication of a Virus

Chronic drug abuse can weaken the immune system or create an internal environment that is conducive to the proliferation of infections.
Recent research studies have suggested that methamphetamine abuse may assist the replication of viruses in your system. If you have a low-level virus in your system already, chronic methamphetamine abuse can allow the virus to replicate itself more effectively.

Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Any chronic substance abuse is associated with potentially risky behaviors due to lack of judgment, an inability to control impulsive behaviors, or a cavalier attitude.
Very often, inhibitions associated with sexual activity are lowered significantly in people who are under the influence of nearly any type of substance of abuse. This can lead to a greater risk of contracting and spreading other STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, human papillomavirus, and syphilis.

Hepatitis

Finger being pricked for testing

Hepatitis is a viral infection that damages the liver. The difference between hepatitis B and hepatitis C is that you can contract hepatitis B from the body fluids of an infected person, whereas contracting hepatitis C is usually only the result of blood-to-blood contact with an affected person.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can result in damage to the liver that can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis, or cancer. Because your liver is responsible for metabolizing substances in the blood and ridding your body of toxins, liver damage is often a dire and potentially fatal consequence of drug abuse.

If you inject drugs, you are at a higher risk for contracting hepatitis C. It is estimated that one affected person who shares needles will infect as many as 20 other people.
A substantial percent of newly diagnosed hepatitis C cases are caused by shared needles associated with drug use. People who abuse drugs are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors habitually that increase the probability of contracting hepatitis B. Those who inject drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, or anabolic steroids, are increasing the risk that they will contract hepatitis C.  Whereas, nearly any drug abuser will experience poor judgment, leading to an increased risk to becherome infected with hepatitis B and spread the disease to others.

TB (Tuberculosis)

Tuberculosis (TB) occurs as a result of bacteria in the lungs. TB is often contracted in areas with poor sanitary conditions or poor ventilation where there are others who have the disease.
Increased rates of TB have long been observed in those who abuse drugs.

Any sharing of drug paraphernalia can lead to increased risk of contracting tuberculosis. This includes sharing:

  • Syringes to inject drugs
  • Pipes designed to smoke drugs
  • Rolled-up paper money, straws, and tubes designed to snort drugs

People who are incarcerated may contract TB due to unsanitary conditions in jails.
People who abuse drugs and contract TB are far more likely to experience a chronic and advanced development of the disease because they often do not visit their physician for checkups or treatment. These individuals can also spread the disease to others who are not drug users.

Pneumonia

Drugs that produce respiratory suppression may make you more vulnerable to contracting pneumonia. This is especially true if you vomit, and some of the regurgitated matter becomes trapped in the lungs.
Paraphernalia used to smoke drugs that are not sanitized can also lead to pneumonia.
Even people who abuse alcohol are known to be at an increased risk to develop pneumonia because they may vomit as a result of drinking too much alcohol or from withdrawal. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows down breathing rates, increasing the likelihood that vomit will end up in the lungs.

Staph Infections and Other Skin Infections

Staph infections can develop at injection sites on people who inject drugs.
Although drugs that are injected can result in a staph infection, it is most common with heroin and steroid abuse. It is also possible to contract a staph infection from someone else.
Staph infections can be fatal if left untreated. An infection of the heart, endocarditis,
Other similar types of infections due to drug abuse can also result in endocarditis if left untreated.

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Drug Abuse and the Immune System

Any type of chronic drug abuse places a burden on nearly every organ in the body. This includes impairing the functioning of the immune system.
When the immune system cannot work properly, the person becomes more vulnerable to any type of infectious disease. If they contract an infectious disease, they are also more likely to spread that disease to others.

Unsanitary Conditions

People who abuse drugs may frequent areas where there is a lack of sanitation. This can increase the risk that a person who may already have a compromised immune system can contract any number of different infectious diseases.
Many drugs of abuse also increase a specific risk for certain types of infectious diseases.  Substance abuse combined with a weakened immune system results in a lack of judgment, and a tendency to ignore the consequences of behavior when under the influence. A person is more susceptible to various types of infectious diseases.
If someone contracts an infectious disease and does not get it treated, they are more likely to spread it to others.


Conclusions

People who abuse drugs are at an increased risk to contract many types of infectious diseases and spread these diseases to others.
The safest way to avoid this situation is to get treatment for substance abuse issues.