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Alcohol Use on the Circulatory System

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If you have a history of alcohol abuse, it may be time to get help for your addiction. With professional help, you can begin repairing damage to your circulatory system.

What the Circulatory System Does

The circulatory system is an essential system in your body. It is responsible for maintaining balance of all the systems in the body by consistently and constantly circulating your blood.

By moving blood throughout your body, the circulatory system helps to maintain proper body temperature, fight disease, and transport oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout your system.

There are four main pieces of the circulatory system that do all of this work: the heart, arteries, veins, and blood.

  • The heart pumps blood 24/7 to drive the circulatory system.
  • Arteries are responsible for carrying blood that is rich with oxygen away from your heart and distributing it to the rest of your body. Think “arteries away” to remember this.
  • Veins carry blood that is in need of oxygen to the lungs, where it is oxygenated and pumped back to the heart.
  • Blood is the final main player of the circulatory system. It provides the means of transportation for everything (oxygen, hormones, nutrients, and antibodies) throughout the body.

Through the above four components, blood is effectively circulated throughout the body.

There are three types of circulation that are responsible for slightly different actions. Pulmonary circulation distributes blood between the heart and lungs. Systemic circulation sends oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. Coronary circulation provides oxygenated blood to the heart, so it can continue to work properly.

How Alcohol Affects the Circulatory System

Whether you are a social drinker or struggling with alcohol abuse, alcohol impacts your circulatory system.

Some studies have found that drinking in moderation can have a positive impact on the circulatory system. At this level of consumption, alcohol can help to make the right balance of fat in your blood, which decreases your chances of blood clots or blocked arteries forming.

More than two drinks per day, however, can damage your circulatory system. Too much alcohol can inhibit proper heart functioning and prevent blood from being effectively pumped throughout the body. When oxygen and nutrients, which are supplied through your blood, are not delivered effectively, the results can be clogged blood vessels and cell damage due to lack of oxygen.

Researchers stress that only moderate drinking (no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) can provide potential health benefits. Light to moderate drinking has been associated with a reduced likelihood of developing coronary heart disease or stroke.

As soon as levels of alcohol consumption increase beyond a moderate amount, the risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and death increases significantly.

Long-Term Damage to the Circulatory System From Alcohol

Many studies have recognized the connection between drug and alcohol use and long-term damage to the circulatory system, particularly the heart. The following cardiovascular diseases can be caused by heavy alcohol use:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Cardiomyopathy

In addition to the above direct impacts that alcohol can have on the heart, alcohol can causes physiological changes to the circulatory system.

  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Changes in circulation
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Cell death
  • Heart damage

Other Drugs That Impact the Circulatory System

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), researchers have found that nearly all drugs impact the circulatory system, specifically the cardiovascular system, which regulates heart function. Adverse health consequences of drug abuse on the cardiovascular system range in severity from abnormal heart rate to heart attack and death.

Additional problems can be caused by injection drug use, such as collapsed veins and bacterial infections in blood vessels and heart valves.

These drugs are known to impact the circulatory system in these ways:

  • Cocaine: constricted blood vessels, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • DMT: increased heart rate
  • GHB: slowed heart rate and decreased body temperature
  • Heroin: slowed heart rate, collapsed veins, and bacterial infections in the circulatory system
  • Inhalants: dilated blood vessels, increased heart rate, and heightened sensation of heat
  • Ketamine: increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
  • Khat: increased blood pressure and heart rate, and increased risk of heart attack
  • LSD: increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
  • Marijuana: increased heart rate, expanded blood vessels, increased blood pressure, and reduction of the blood’s ability to transport oxygen
  • MDMA: increased blood pressure and body temperature, reduced heart pumping efficiency, irregular heartbeat, and heart disease
  • Mescaline (peyote): increased body temperature and heart rate
  • Methamphetamine: rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and elevated body temperature
  • PCP: increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
  • Prescription stimulants: increased blood pressure and heart rate, constricted blood vessels, and increased blood glucose
  • Steroids: heart attack and infections from steroid injection
  • Synthetic cannabinoids: rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to heart
  • Synthetic cathinones: increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, and chest pain
  • Tobacco: increased risk of heart disease, stroke, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease

Most drugs produce at least short-term physiological effects on the circulatory system. Stimulant drugs are likely to increase body temperature and heart rate, while depressants will slow down these vital bodily functions. When combined with other drugs, like alcohol, the effects of the drugs on the circulatory and cardiovascular systems is compounded.

Additionally, long-term use of these drugs increases the severity and likelihood of experiencing adverse health effects.


Experimenting with drugs that impact heart rate and blood pressure exposes you to the potential for overdose. The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that most recreational drugs have the potential for negative cardiovascular effects, the most severe of which is a fatal heart attack.

AHA describes cocaine, for example, as the “the perfect heart attack drug” due to common cardiovascular symptoms found in regular cocaine users and the typical sides effects of cocaine. Recreational users of cocaine are more likely to have high blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and thicker heart walls than non-users. These symptoms, combined with the cardiovascular effects of cocaine, are a recipe for an overdose.

Alcohol can cause effects on the body that lead to an overdose. An overdose on alcohol, commonly called alcohol poisoning, can have the following impacts on the circulatory system:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Trouble pumping blood
  • Heart failure

A drug or alcohol overdose can be life-threatening. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms of an overdose, it is imperative that you get emergency medical help right away. Do not delay in calling 911.

Reversing Damage to the Circulatory System

Depending on the level of damage done to the circulatory system, it may be possible to reverse some of it. A recent study found that specific cells in the circulatory system, called pericytes, are responsible for stimulating the growth of new blood vessels. By encouraging new blood vessels to grow, people who have experienced damage to the heart and blood vessels following a heart attack, for example, may be able to restore proper blood flow and supply to the heart.

The same researchers discovered that pericytes encourage the production of a hormone called leptin. This hormone helps to regulate your energy balance and also encourages the growth of new blood vessels. In someone with a damaged heart, increasing the levels of leptin in pericytes could help to speed up the recovery process.

Other studies have found that simply reducing your blood pressure can allow damage to your arteries and circulatory system to heal. High blood pressure puts extra stress on the circulatory system and causes arteries to stiffen in response. As blood pressure decreases, the arteries are able to relax and return to a healthier state of functioning.

If damage to your circulatory system has been caused by drug abuse, the most important thing to do is stop using drugs. According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), ending drug use can reverse damage to the heart. When combined with appropriate medical treatment, quitting drugs can improve overall heart functioning.

In a recent study reviewed by ACC, methamphetamine users were treated for heart damage. All participants in the study received medical treatment, but the patients who discontinued all methamphetamine use displayed a significant improvement in cardiac symptoms and function in comparison to the participants who continued to abuse meth. The study noted that treatment of heart problems in people abusing drugs should focus on helping the individuals quit their drug use rather than just prescribing medications to manage their symptoms.

Signs You Might Need Addiction Treatment

If you have a history of drug abuse and are concerned you may have damaged your body, it is likely time to get treatment.

There are many signs that can help you recognize an addiction problem that warrants professional care.

  • Early signs of abuse: experimenting with drugs, a family history of addiction, a pull to use drugs, actively seeking out drug use, bingeing, or losing control regarding drug use
  • Changes in personality: neglecting personal relationships and responsibilities, lack of interest in activities that used to be important, changes in behavior, an increase in risk-taking, ignoring negative consequences, and lying about substance use
  • Changes in health: sudden weight changes, decline in personal hygiene, continually getting sick, bloodshot eyes, poor sleep patterns, and bad skin or teeth
  • Mental and emotional changes: sudden mood changes, aggression, irritability, anxiety, depression, paranoia, suicidal ideation, apathy, and memory loss
  • Drug tolerance: needing increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired results
  • Drug dependence: the experience of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms with attempts to stop using or cut down on use

If you recognize any of the above signs of drug abuse in yourself or someone you know, it’s time to get help. Addiction and the effects it has on your mental and physical health will continue to get worse over time.

The sooner you can access treatment for addiction, the sooner you will be able to reverse any potential damage done to your body. A comprehensive treatment program will address your physical, mental, and emotional needs, helping you return to a healthy life free from substance abuse. You can get the appropriate medical care you need as well as the mental health care needed to live a long life in recovery.

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