Now More Than Ever, It’s Time to Get Clean

An addict looking up

One of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic is that many people are rethinking their daily health choices. People are implementing new, proactive steps into their daily routines such as regular hand washing, not touching their faces, eating better, exercising more, etc. That is a step in the right direction. But for people who are actively using drugs and alcohol, the health risks attendant with the new strain of coronavirus are exponentially more significant. For those addicted, it’s going to take a lot more than daily hand washing to protect themselves from infection.

People who use drugs and alcohol are not only more likely to contract illnesses like COVID-19, but they are also more likely to suffer immensely from such disease should they contract them. Now more than ever, addicts must seek treatment. Their lives depend on it.

Substance Abuse Hampers the Immune System

There is a definitive relationship between substance abuse and susceptibility to disease. When people use drugs and alcohol, they damage their body’s own natural ability to fight infection. The result? Addicts are more prone to getting sick. And that includes all types of illnesses, ranging anywhere from the common cold all the way up to serious infections like COVID-19.

“… We hypothesize that cocaine harms the immune system by altering the regulatory functions of key immune cells, resulting in increased susceptibility to cancer and infection.”

A significant body of research suggests that drug chemicals damage key cell structures within the body. These cell structures are responsible for regulating the body’s immune system. Researchers at the University of Illinois proved this in lab tests. Quoting David Ou, clinical associate professor of pathology: “In mice and cell cultures, we found that cocaine directly affects many aspects of thymocyte functions. Since the thymus is the essential organ for T-cell maturation and normal immune function, the effects of cocaine may partly explain abnormal immune responses, leading to increased disease or tumor growth. … We hypothesize that cocaine harms the immune system by altering the regulatory functions of key immune cells, resulting in increased susceptibility to cancer and infection.”

People who use drugs and alcohol are more likely to suffer from illnesses and diseases. Some of these illnesses will stem from the drugs they are using. Others will arise from the choices they are making while under the influence. But many of these illnesses are likely just the result of addicts being partially or entirely immunocompromised due to their drug use. If addicts continue to use drugs and alcohol through the coronavirus pandemic, they are putting themselves at an even higher risk of contracting the potentially lethal virus.

Addiction Damages the Heart and Lungs

Heart damage

When people use drugs and alcohol, they damage their physical health. For example, most drugs take a heavy toll on the body’s cardiovascular system. Adverse effects range from abnormal heart rate up to potentially fatal heart attack. IV drug use can bring about collapsed veins, bacterial infections in the blood vessels and heart valves, etc.

Substance abuse damages the lungs, too. That is particularly true when drugs are smoked or otherwise inhaled. Smoking marijuana, crack cocaine, opioids, or meth can damage the lungs and can even cause severe respiratory problems. Smoking drugs can cause breathing to slow, can block airflow, and can bring about bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer.

When people use addictive substances, they weaken their internal organs. Having a weakened heart and lungs does not necessarily make it more likely that someone will contract COVID-19, but it will make it so they suffer more, should they contract it. It is known that COVID-19 is particularly harmful to the heart and lungs, so the weaker the heart and lungs are in a coronavirus patient, the more likely that patient will experience very concerning and unpleasant symptoms. The cardiovascular and respiratory risks attendant with drug use and the added risk of suffering terribly from coronavirus are yet another reason why addicts must cease drug use and seek help now.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Leads to Poor Health Choices

Woman takes cupcake from a fridge full of bear.

It’s clear that drug and alcohol addiction lowers an individual’s immune system and makes it more likely that they will catch COVID-19. Substance abuse also damages internal organs, making addicts more susceptible to severe harm and potentially life-threatening side-effects should they contract COVID-19. And to make matters even more dire, people who suffer from addiction often make poor health choices in other ways, usually because they prioritize their addiction over all else. Poor health choices serves as yet another risk factor for contracting COVID-19.

People who use drugs and alcohol often don’t get as much sleep as they should. Consistent, plentiful rest is good for all aspects of one’s health, including the immune system. Addicts also don’t always eat well or get enough exercise. Unhealthy habits beget unhealthy habits, and a person who is making poor health choices is simply more likely to struggle with illness and other health complications. During a global health crisis, it couldn't be more critical for addicts to get the help they need to lead healthy, safe lives.

To summarize, addicts are at increased risk during a global pandemic because substance abuse lowers the immune system, taking drugs and alcohol harms internal organs, and addiction has a tendency to bring about other poor health habits that increase one's likelihood of getting sick.

The Importance of Seeking Treatment During a Pandemic

People who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction should seek help as soon as possible. An addiction to drugs and alcohol is always dangerous and should always be addressed with treatment.

But during the coronavirus pandemic, the urgency for addicts to get help is even more pressing. Not only is substance abuse dangerous and life-threatening by itself (tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year), but addicts face an additional danger in that they are more susceptible to health risks from COVID-19.

If you know someone struggling with drugs and alcohol, please make sure they get into a treatment center as soon as possible. Now more than ever, their lives are in danger, and it’s essential to act fast to make sure they get the help they need before it is too late.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.