How Drug Addiction Can Lead To Heart Problems

how drug addiction can lead to heart problems
How drug addiction can lead to heart problems

Drug addiction can lead to many health problems that affect all of the body’s systems and organs, including the heart. Using drugs can lead to heart disease, damage to the heart, changes in the way the heart functions, and heart failure. There are many different ways drugs can affect and damage the heart with both short-term use and long-term use.

Drugs and the Heart

Keeping a healthy heart is important for the health of the entire body. The heart needs to work effectively to pump blood to all areas of the body. This is because the blood carries oxygen and vital nutrients to cells allowing them to function, heal, and grow. Drug use affects the heart in many different ways and can cause damage to different parts of the heart. The parts of the heart that can become damaged and diseased due to drug use include:

  • Heart muscle
  • Valves inside the heart
  • Electrical system of the heart that regulates how it beats
  • Blood vessels that lead in and out of the heart


Drugs can interfere with the electric impulses that affect the rhythm of the heart. Abnormal heart rhythms are referred to as an arrhythmia. There are several types of arrhythmia. Arrhythmia can last just briefly or for longer periods of time. This interruption in heart rhythm can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which means the heart is no longer pumping blood, rather it pools in the heart’s upper or lower chambers. Types of arrhythmia include:

  • Atrial fibrillation – where the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of pump blood. This can lead to pooling of blood in the heart and the formation of blood clots.
  • Ventricular fibrillation – where the lower chambers of the heart quiver and don’t pump blood. This can lead to sudden cardiac arrest
  • Bradycardia – decreased heart rate which can lead to reduced blood flow through the body and other organs.
  • Tachycardia – fast heart rate that can put too much strain on the heart muscle leading to swelling and damage over time.
  • Conduction disorders – abnormal rhythm in the heart rate.
  • Premature contraction – early heart beat causing a feeling as if the heart has skipped a beat. This is typically a symptom of another heart problem.
  • Atrial flutter – palpitations that need to be checked by a physician, usually a sign of heart failure or damage to the valves in the heart.

Stimulant drugs typically have more affect on heart rhythm than other types of drugs. In fact, one of the meth addiction signs is increased heart rate, feeling like the heart skips a beat, and palpitations of the heart.

Aortic Dissection

An aortic dissection occurs when the aorta is damaged. This leads to a tear in the inner lining of this blood vessel, allowing blood to flow into the middle layer. The blood effectively separates, or dissects, the two layers of the aorta which can eventually rupture causing death if left untreated.

Blood Clots

Blood clots can form in the heart if the upper chambers of the heart experience abnormal rhythms, or arrhythmia. This is caused when blood is not fully pumped out of the upper chambers causing pooling and clotting of blood in the heart. If a portion of this clot breaks off and finds its way into the blood vessels, blood flow can become blocked causing heart attack, or death of tissue within the heart. Depending on how much tissue is affected, this can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest and heart attack are not the same. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working the way it should due to malfunctions in its electrical system, called arrhythmias. Sudden cardiac arrest can lead to death with little or no warning symptoms. This occurs most frequently with stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack.


Cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle becomes enlarged due to overworking. This can be from abnormal heart rates, or arrhythmia, or increased blood pressure from drug use. When the heart muscle becomes enlarged, it also thickens which affects the way the heart pumps blood. This condition actually weakens the heart.

Congestive Heart Failure

When the heart does not function the way it should, it may not circulate blood properly. This can affect the kidneys and cause fluid build up, or congestion, in the lungs, liver, and other areas of the body. This puts excessive pressure on the heart and cause heart failure. Heart failure does not mean the heart is not working, but rather cannot pump enough blood into the body.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood, and thus oxygen, to the heart become narrowed. This leads to decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart. Many drugs cause blood vessels to become restricted during use. Over time, this can cause permanent damage and narrowing of arteries and can lead to cell and tissue death from lack of oxygen to the heart.

High Blood Pressure

Many drugs cause a sudden increase in blood pressure. This can lead to a damage of blood vessels and the heart over time. High blood pressure can lead to damaged and weakened blood vessels which can then constrict, collapse, or burst. Damage to the heart can include decreased blood flow, inflammation or thickening of the heart muscle, or changes in heart rhythm leading to arrhythmia.

Infections of the Heart

Heart infections are more likely to occur as the result of intravenous drug use and the introduction of bacteria, viruses, or fungi into the blood stream. Infections can affect the heart muscle, the heart valves, or anywhere in the heart. Infection can also lead to inflammation of the heart muscle or the lining inside the heart, resulting in myocarditis or endocarditis respectively. Although IV drug use is the most common way drug users get heart infections, they can occur due to a weakened immune system from use of drugs such as methamphetamine, which can introduce infection through skin wounds and sores.

Drug Addiction Can Lead to Heart Problems

Using drugs, even one time, can cause a permanent or even fatal damage to the heart. Long-term use of drugs often caused by addiction puts even more strain on the heart for longer periods of time and can lead to heart disease.


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