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Potential Implications of COVID-19 for Individuals With Substance Use Disorders

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse issued an official press release warning against the significant implications of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on vulnerable populations, such as those diagnosed with substance use disorders. Keep reading to find out more.

COVID-19, What You Need to Know

Based on available research, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, originated from other mammals like bats and jumped species to infect humans. The first infection was reported in 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Chinese province Hubei, which was the epicentre of the disease. Initial findings suggested that it attacks the human respiratory tract and far exceeds the fatality rate of seasonal influenza.

Coronavirus affects people in different ways. Some people will develop mild to moderate symptoms and recover in a short time without requiring hospitalization. The worst cases can result in death.

Man coughing while wearing a face mask

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever
  • Dry Cough
  • Lethargy

Other people also report less common COVID-19 symptoms like:

  • Body aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Severe headache
  • A loss of your sense of taste and smell
  • Rashes or other types of contact dermatitis
  • Discoloration of fingers and toes

People whose infection progressed to the severe form of the disease experienced:

  • Loss of speech and movement
  • Pain or pressure in the chest area
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath

In these situations, COVID-19 patients are placed on tubes or mechanical ventilators to support their breathing process. On the other hand, there is also a part of the population who are asymptomatic. They test positive for COVID-19. They exhibit none of the disease’s known symptoms but can still spread the infection to other people.

Smoking & Vaping Addiction: Compromised Respiratory and Pulmonary Health

Close up shot hands with tattoo and a lit-up cigarette

Smoking tobacco is a primary risk factor for a multitude of respiratory infections and exacerbates respiratory illnesses. On April 29, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) pooled public health experts worldwide to review studies that led to the conclusion that smokers are more predisposed to developing severe COVID-19 than their non-smoking counterparts.

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that targets and attacks the lungs. Smokers already have an impaired lung function, which means it will be a struggle for them to win over coronavirus when it hits them.

Similar to smoking, vaping will also make you an easy target for coronavirus. Aside from the unknown risk of developing lung disease, scientific evidence suggests that vaping with e-cigarettes exposes you to detrimental aerosols that wreaks havoc on the cells on your lungs, which as a result, weakens its ability to fight off infection. An NIH-based study discovered that mice infected with the influenza virus suffered tissue damage and inflammation when exposed to aerosols.

Diminished Lung Capacity in People with Opioid Use Disorder

 Prescription pills spilled out of the bottle

People taking opioids as part of a prescription or who struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD) and methamphetamine use disorder have a debilitated respiratory and pulmonary health as a consequence of their substance abuse.

Opioids work in the brainstem to slow down breathing, which leads to fatal overdose and hypoxemia, or harmfully low levels of oxygen in the blood. With continuous substance abuse using opioids, the brain can be severely and irreversibly damaged. Opioid users with chronic respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 have an incredibly high overdose mortality risk.

How a History of Methamphetamine Addiction Makes You Vulnerable to COVID-19

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that goes by the names meth, blue, ice, and crystal. Taking it constricts the blood vessels in the body, which is a leading contributing factor to pulmonary damage and pulmonary hypertension. Doctors should monitor how the side effects of meth use affect the prognosis of COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 Comorbidities

As of June 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic has already 8.24 million of confirmed infections and a staggering death rate of 446,000 that currently shows no signs of slowing down. Almost 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths and hospital admissions involved comorbidities or underlying health issues, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • Diabetes
  • Immunocompromised
  • Liver disease
  • Hemoglobin disorders
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Senior citizens aged 65 and older
  • People in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is rampant among smokers

Several studies show that comorbidities worsen the patient’s prognosis, as seen in coronaviruses that caused SARS and MERS outbreaks.

A case series published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA featured data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) where patients with chronic respiratory disease cases had a fatality rate for COVID-19 was 6.3 percent, compared to the overall 2.3 percent.

Chinese men are more likely to smoke (52.9 percent) than women (2.4 percent). Whether this can be connected to the higher mortality rate seen in men compared to women requires further analysis.

Hand with IV tube

Homelessness, Incarceration, and Lack of Healthcare Access

Another critical aspect that puts individuals dealing with substance abuse is that they are more likely to experience homelessness or imprisonment than others. These factors might make social distancing and self-isolation difficult for them, increasing their chances of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Furthermore, people with substance use disorders are also more likely to have limited or a complete lack of access to healthcare providers. Given the current stigma on addiction, there’s a probability that their medical needs will be taken for granted or least prioritized when public hospitals and clinics become overwhelmed with infected cases.

The Pandemic’s Mental Health Effects

Beyond the vulnerability to getting infected and succumbing to the disease, the prospect of long-term social isolation or self-quarantine comes with its own set of mental health implications in people struggling with substance abuse.

Loneliness and isolation are the biggest triggers of most substance use and addiction. Without seeing friends and family, these individuals face a risk of spiralling down and ending up in relapse.

Freedom From Addiction is one of Canada’s leading and most innovative drug addiction and recovery homes. While we have temporarily closed our doors for patients who have not yet been tested negative for COVID-19, we have therapists who are always ready to take your call 24/7.

Contact us today!


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