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Getting an Infectious Disease From Drug Use

Do you know if that needle you are about to put into your body is truly clean? Do you also know how you might behave when the high sets in?

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The answer to those questions explain why infectious diseases and drug use are so closely linked.

Some infections begin with the way you use drugs. Germs can enter your body transmitted through needles, and once there, they reproduce.

Others start with the choices you make while intoxicated. Drugs lower your inhibitions, which can lead to unsafe situations; for example, unprotected sex. Infections can follow.

4 Diseases Associated With Drugs

Just how ill could you get if you inject drugs or use intoxicating substances? Researchers say there are four main types of infections common among people who abuse drugs, and some of them are difficult to treat.

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People who abuse drugs can develop:
  • HIV. This condition lowers the effectiveness of your immune system, and that makes you more vulnerable to all sorts of infections. It can be effectively managed with medications, but you’ll need to take them for the rest of your life. If you don’t get treatment, it can progress to AIDS, which is life-threatening.
  • Hepatitis C. This condition causes liver inflammation, and you may not notice any signs aside from slight queasiness. If it’s caught early, treatment with antiviral medications could eliminate the disease. If it’s left untreated, it can cause permanent liver scarring.
  • Heart muscle infections. Infective endocarditis is a serious cardiac illness that can lead to death. Doctors can use antibiotics to kill off the microbes and restore you to good health, but without treatment, it could take your life.
  • Syphilis. Illicit drug use is associated with the spread of this sexually transmitted disease in both gay men and straight men and women, says the Infectious Disease Advisor. The number of cases rose 72.7 percent between 2013 and 2017, they say, mainly due to drug use. It may be treated with antibiotics, but left untreated, it can result in brain damage and death.

Drugs That Increase Your Risk

Research says five drugs have been closely tied to these sorts of diseases.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those five drugs are:
  • Cocaine. Use of this drug can increase the speed of an HIV infection, diminish immune cell function and, encourages the spread of the HIV virus.
  • Heroin. This drug is almost always injected, and you can be infected by needles, cooktops, and almost any other prep surface.
  • Methamphetamine. This drug can be injected too and sharing needles and cooktops can lead to infection. It is also associate with a faster progression of HIV.
  • Prescription painkillers. People accustomed to these drugs may need to crush them and inject the powder. Shared cooktops and syringes can lead to infection.
  • Steroids. These drugs are designed to make you look stronger or slimmer, and they’re often injected. Infections can slide down the needle and into your body.

This is a short list, and it’s certainly not inclusive of every substance that could spark an infection in your body. But it does showcase just how frequently drug abuse and infections go hand in hand.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

Many of these infections are painful. While addiction treatment is the best way to eliminate your risk, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

Harm-reduction techniques lessen the harm associated with drug use. There are still many risks, and the ultimate goal should be sobriety, but the idea is that if harm can be reduced, people may live long enough to eventually get help.

Some solutions are easy, while others will take a bit of commitment.

You could:

  • Refuse to share any equipment. It’s convenient to reuse needles, share heating devices, and reuse spoons. But microbes can hide on all these spaces. If you want to lower your risk, you’ll need to keep your equipment private.
  • Find a safe injection site. Some communities offer areas in which you can trade old needles for new ones, and you can use sanitized equipment to prepare your dose. A team of professionals can stand guard and step in if you overdose too. Not all communities offer this help, but if yours does, you might consider using it.
  • Identify a sober buddy. The solutions listed above will protect you from needle-borne pathogens, but you still need help with safer sex. Some infectious diseases are remarkably virulent, and even condoms and dental dams won’t lower your risk to zero. You need someone to use drugs with you, so they can keep you from making a big mistake. That person should stay sober.
  • Enter treatment. The best way to ensure that you won’t get an infectious disease is to stop using drugs altogether. In treatment, you won’t be tempted to poke needles into your skin or do out-of-character things due to intoxication. This is the best way to lower your risk to zero.

How Can You Get Better?

You’ve decided to enroll in treatment. Can your medical issue get treated at the same time? The answer to that question is “yes,” but you may need to do a little homework.

According to Health Affairs, only 28.1 percent of substance abuse treatment facilities tested for infectious disease in 2017. That statistic suggests that you’ll need to get checked by your doctor before you enroll in treatment. And you’ll need a treatment plan when you arrive.

Medications used to treat infectious disease don’t get you high. They kill bacteria, but they leave your brain cells alone. You should be able to bring them with you to almost any treatment center.

But you will need to disclose the fact that you have a prescription, and in some facilities, you’ll need to get your dose from a nurse. Carrying pills and using them in the center can be a trigger for other people in recovery, and it’s typically not allowed. When it’s time for your dose, a nurse can give it to you. And the pills will stay in a locked cabinet until it’s time.

As your body heals, you’ll have more energy to fight back against your addiction. Your treatment team will help you as you make progress toward sustained recovery.

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