How Does Drug Use Affect the Immune System?

The immune system is responsible for the body’s ability to defend against bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other dangerous pathogens. Without a properly functioning immune system, we are entirely defenseless against disease-causing microorganisms. Drugs and alcohol weaken the immune system and leave us vulnerable to both common and severe infections.
One of the most important organs in the immune system is the liver. The liver is responsible for producing proteins necessary for blood clotting, breaking down old or damaged blood cells, breaking down fats to produce energy, and plays a major role in all of the body’s metabolic processes. According to Medical News Today, “The liver filters and removes compounds from the body, including hormones, such as estrogen and aldosterone, and compounds from outside the body, including alcohol and other drugs.” However, use of alcohol and drugs impair the ability of the liver to function properly and carry out all of these necessary processes.
Alcohol and drugs weaken the liver and immune system to such an extent that a user become much more vulnerable to disease. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.” As the liver becomes more and more damaged from drugs and alcohol, the likelihood of contracting a life-threatening disease is great increased. Eventually, the scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) can lead to a dangerous condition called alcoholic hepatitis.
T-cells are type of white blood cells that are of major importance to the immune system. Drugs like cocaine affect the process of T-cell maturation and can greatly weaken the immune system. A 1997 study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at the Veterans Administration West Side Medical Center found that “cocaine dramatically alters the numbers and genetic machinery of a key immune cell from the thymus gland, possibly weakening the body’s immune system.” David Our, chief of immunology and virology at the VA West Side Medical Center explained, “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.” Alcohol, cocaine, and nearly every drug can compromise the immune system’s ability to properly function, leaving an individual at increased vulnerability for disease and infection.

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