How Drug Abuse Affects Your Immune System

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how drugs abuse affects your immune system

How Drug Abuse Affects Your Immune System

How Drug Abuse Affects Your Immune System

Put simply, our immune system works to protect our bodies from harmful bacteria, viruses, and toxins. It’s no secret that drug abuse can have a negative impact on overall health, but few people know how drug abuse affects your immune system. Long-term drug use can deteriorate a person’s physical health by targeting the way their organs function. From the brain to the heart, every organ in a person’s body may feel the repercussions of drug addiction. In many cases, an addict’s immune system may overwork itself to the point where it weakens and is unable to properly fight off disease. A weak immune system increases a person’s chances of contracting life-threatening diseases. As a drug and alcohol treatment center in Palm Beach, we wanted to take a closer look at the effects of drugs on the immune system

How Does the Immune System Work?

The immune system is the body’s form of defense against bacteria, viruses, infections, and toxins. The immune system performs tasks like fighting off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It also works to remove these harmful things from our bodies. The immune system also works quickly to neutralize harmful invaders the moment they recognize them. While this vital system is constantly at work, it’s immediately activated when something enters the body that it doesn’t recognize, otherwise known as antigens. When antigens latch themselves onto cells in the immune system, not only does this system work to fight off antigens, but it also stores information about them. This means that if the person comes in contact with the same antigens again, their immune system will remember how to fight it. 

How Does Drug Abuse Affect the Immune System?

While many people know how drugs affect the brain, they may also wonder, “can drug abuse weaken your immune system?” And the answer is a resounding yes. The general idea of how drug abuse affects your immune system is that this system will overwork itself to the point where it weakens. Because drug addiction is a chronic disease, an individual who does not receive addiction treatment will continue to use these substances. Over time, their immune system will burn out, leaving them more susceptible to contracting other diseases. Damage done to the immune system as a result of drug abuse also depends on the substance. 

Prescription Drugs 

The U.S. has been in an opioid epidemic since the late 1990s, and plenty of research has been conducted on the effects of opioids on the immune system and other areas of the body. Regarding the immune system, prescription drug users are more likely to suffer from pulmonary infections caused by mycobacteria. Staphylococci (staph infection), streptococcus (strep throat), and Haemophilus are a few of the many mycobacteria that opioids users are more likely to contract. 

Long-term opioid abuse can damage more than just the immune system. These drugs also affect the chemical makeup of the brain and how it functions. Over time, a person may experience a variety of serious health conditions. At Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, we offer an opioid addiction treatment to help those with this type of addiction reach sobriety.


Intravenous drug abusers, like people who abused heroin, are also more likely to contract viruses and diseases like HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis if they share needles with other people. Discarded drug paraphernalia like dirty needles are the most common warning signs of heroin addiction and are the leading reason for viral infections in heroin users. Opioids like heroin are also known for their effects on the brain. When these drugs interact with cells in the central nervous system, they cause an increase in glucocorticoid and corticosterone levels, which are hormones that play a role in regulating cellular response in the immune system. 


Like heroin, cocaine is another drug that can be injected or used intravenously. This means that cocaine users are also more likely to contract viruses like HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases than non-users. Cocaine also causes HIV replication in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, which are cells that incite certain responses from the immune system.1 

Mapping the effects of drugs on the immune system is difficult. How drugs affect your immune system depends on a variety of factors, such as the kind of drug used, the duration of the person’s addiction, and the person’s health condition when they began using drugs; however, it’s safe to say that most drugs, especially when abused, can weaken the immune system and increase the person’s chances of contracting viruses and diseases. 

If you or a loved one is battling an addiction, do not wait to get help. Call our rehab in Palm Beach at 561-220-3981 to learn more about our addiction treatment programs


  1. OA –

    Addictive drugs and their relationship with infectious diseases


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Pros and Cons: Weighing the Benefits of Prescription Painkillers



Different Kinds of Club Drugs


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