How Drug Abuse Affects the Heart & Cardiovascular System

How do drugs affect the heart? Most illegal drugs have some sort of negative impact on a person’s heart. These negative consequences can range from an abnormal heart rate to a heart attack. A few drugs that can impact the cardiovascular system are cocaine, heroin, inhalants, Rohypnol, ketamine, LSD, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth), PCP, prescription stimulants, and tobacco. Cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamine all have similar negative impacts on the cardiovascular system and two of the most dangerous illegal drugs that cause heart attacks are cocaine and ecstasy. Therefore, drug overdose can cause cardiovascular failure. This can be fatal.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease encompasses a wide variety of issues that can impact a person’s heart. A few diseases of the heart are blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), like heart defects a person is born with (congenital heart defects). Cardiovascular disease refers to conditions that involve the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels that can lead to heart attack, chest pain, and stroke. Some other heart conditions can impact the heart’s muscles, valves, and rhymes. Symptoms depend greatly on the type of heart disease a person has. For example, heart disease in the blood vessels can lead to chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, numbness, weakness, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, and upper abdomen. However, symptoms of an abnormal heartbeat include a fluttering sensation in the chest, racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting.

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More about Cocaine – the “perfect heart-attack drug”

Cocaine use can cause some serious complications with the heart. This illegal substance impacts the cardiovascular system by thickening the heart muscle walls and stiffens the arteries. Of all the drugs that can cause heart attack, cocaine is the most severe. Cocaine use can lead to a heart attack because of the increase in blood pressure that is caused by cocaine use. Cocaine also has the ability to cause an irregular heart rhythm which could be fatal. Compared to all the other drugs cocaine is extremely damaging to the heart because there is an increased chance for sporadic heart attacks in the small vessels of the heart. Finally, cocaine interferes with cardiac medications like beta-blockers.

Drug Abuse is growing among older adults.

Generally, when thinking about people who use illicit drugs younger people come to mind. The Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that more than 1 million people aged 65 or older had a substance use disorder in 2014 with 978,000 with an alcohol use disorder and 161,000 with an illicit drug use disorder. The report also mentioned that illicit drug use among adults ages 50 and older is projected to increase from 2.2 to 3.1 percent of Americans from 2001 to 2020. This increase in drug use was reported to be due to the baby boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) using more illegal substances than previous generations.

Also, another study posted in the Clinics in Geriatric Medicine Journal, mentioned that alcohol is the most commonly used substance among adults aged 65 and older, despite the increase in illicit drug use. The study also mentioned that about 14 percent of older adults also use tobacco in the last 12 months. Lastly, the article discussed how illicit drug use is more prevalent among older American adults than among any other older adults in the world. In 2012, 11.7 percent of adults aged 65 and older used illicit drugs in the past year.

Alcohol Abuse and Cardiovascular Disease

Alcohol is a potentially addictive and dangerous drug for both the cardiovascular system and many other vital organs. Alcohol consumption in even moderate ranges can lead to an increase in blood pressure. According to an article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, alcohol abuse can result in atrial fibrillation (irregular, rapid heartbeat), heart attack, and congestive heart failure. The results from the study found that alcohol abuse was a powerful cardiac risk factor with atrial fibrillation being the most likely. This is because even at the lowest levels of alcohol consumption there is the risk of atrial fibrillation occurring. If you are wondering, can drug use cause enlarged heart, the answer is most definitely yes. Chronic alcohol abuse is known to cause the left ventricle to be enlarged, dilated, and weakened.

The Effects of Smoking on Cardiovascular Disease

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2018, 13.7 percent of all adults (34.2 million people) currently smoke cigarettes. People who smoke are at an increased risk of getting diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. Smoking can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease, which are among the leading causes of health in the United States. It doesn’t matter how many cigarettes a person has, even just one day can cause cardiovascular disease. According to the Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health, smoking has a huge impact on cardiovascular disease because it causes about 1 in every 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

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The Effects of Illicit Drugs on Cardiovascular Disease

Illicit drug use can produce a wide variety of negative consequences on a person’s heart. For example, opium is an illicit drug that reduces a person’s heart rate. However, if a person overdoses on opium it can lead to heart failure.

Heroin is another illicit drug that reduces a person’s heart rate. Heroin also affects the cardiovascular system because it can lead to a bacterial infection of the blood vessels’ linings and valves of the heart.

Meth use can cause rapid and irregular heartbeats. It can also lead to congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, and damage to the heart muscles and blood vessels due to inflammation. Meth reduces blood flow to vital organs such as the heart, but also increases a person’s heart rate. This increases a person’s chances of experiencing heart failure or a stroke.

Rohypnol is another illegal substance that has dangerous consequences for the heart. When this drug is combined with other drugs like depressants it can cause the heart to slow down dramatically resulting in heart failure.

LSD affects the heart because it causes a person who uses LSDs heart rate and blood pressure to rise. With a high enough dosage, this can lead to heart failure and even death.

Ecstasy can cause a person to become extremely dehydrated. This lack of hydration can cause a person to experience heart palpitation, increased heart rate, and inflammation of the heart wall. This can be fatal. Also, ecstasy can cause physical heart damage, pulmonary hypertension, severe heart attacks, strokes, or liver and kidney damage.

Getting Treatment

Illicit drug use can cause a range of health issues. One of the most common health issues of illicit drug use is cardiovascular disease. Heart disease can be potentially life-threatening and can cause long term consequences on a person’s health. The first step towards a healthier lifestyle is overcoming drug use. If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug addiction problem finding a high-quality rehabilitation facility can help. Rehabilitation clinics are equipped with medical and mental health professions to provide the support necessary to overcome an addiction.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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