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Heroin & Immune Health: How the Drug Impacts Your Immune System

A man suffering from the flu because his immune system is compromised by heroin abuse.
Heroin abuse can incapacitate your immune system to the point where you can’t fight off dangerous viruses and diseases.

Your immune system is like a videographer, a musician at an opera or another behind-the-scenes talent. It’s not flashy and it typically isn’t the star of the show, but it plays a significant role. So significant, in fact, that without your immune system, you wouldn’t be able to protect yourself from threatening illnesses and diseases.

Of course, your immune system isn’t impenetrable, and you still get sick from time to time. Assuming that your immune system is working properly, though, you can typically recover from flus, colds and other illnesses. That is, unless a substance like heroin is interfering.

Your heroin abuse may be incapacitating your immune health, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses and life-threatening viruses and diseases like COVID-19 and cancers.

The Mechanics of Your Immune System

Your immune system is an extensive network of cells, tissues, organs and molecules that work tirelessly day in and day out to keep you healthy. It’s so extensive that it’s broken down into two systems: The innate immune system, which serves as the general defense system of the body, and the adaptive immune system, which is always changing and acclimating to new bacterial threats in the body.

If we break down the immune system, here’s what is included:

Cells. Your immune system is made up of various cells that identify, fight and destroy threatening germs and bacteria. For example, B cells release antibodies to protect against invading cells and CD8* killer T cells are responsible for destroying virus- and cancer-infected cells.

Tissues and Organs. Your body also has organs and tissues that work together to protect you from getting sick. Your skin, for example, serves as a protective barrier, while your spleen is where key immune cells like B cells are created. Your body also has lymph nodes, which filter out viruses, bacteria and other dangerous cells.

Molecules. Your body also contains proteins called antibodies. As already mentioned, antibodies get released from immune cells. They bind to and mark virus-infected cells, so that other immune cells can come and destroy them before they cause any damage to your body.

How Does Heroin Affect the Immune System?

When at full strength, your immune system runs smoothly and effectively like a high-powered vehicle. But like a faulty fuel pump in a car, heroin can stall your immune system’s operations. This is because powerful opioids like heroin are immunosuppressors.

When heroin enters your body, the drug does two key things: First, it suppresses immune cell activity, and second, it decreases the number of immune cells in the body. Let’s take a look at each:

Immune cell suppression: Heroin has a negative effect on white blood cells produced in the spleen. The substance weakens these white blood cells, making them ineffective at identifying and defending against dangerous cells in the body.

Decreased cell formation: Heroin and other opioids affect your immune system’s ability to create new immune cells needed to fight germs, bacteria and viruses like COVID-19. Decreased immune cell formation means fewer antibodies to identify threatening cells and fewer immune cells in general to protect against illnesses and diseases.

Heroin’s Indirect Effects on Immune Health

If the direct attack on your immune system wasn’t enough, heroin abuse also has indirect effects on your health and wellness. Heroin is highly addictive, which means that once you’re hooked, all other priorities take a back seat.

If you’re struggling with heroin addiction, you’re most likely spending your money on drugs instead of healthy foods. This is keeping you from getting the nutrients your immune system needs to keep functioning as it should.

Your heroin addiction is also probably impacting your sleep habits and keeping you from a regular exercise routine. Without proper sleep and physical activity, your body and mind are unable to function in a healthy and effective way.

Finally, if you are injecting heroin it means you’re risking exposing yourself to dirty needles. This practice can lead to skin infections and other diseases like HIV. With an already weakened immune system, these infections and illnesses can become life-threatening.

As grim as these substance abuse effects are, your heroin addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence. In fact, there is plenty of hope for you to break free from addiction and improve your immune health. It just takes the right addiction treatment center to help you reach lasting recovery.

How Heroin Addiction Treatment at The Raleigh House Can Improve Your Immune Health

At The Raleigh House, we have over 10 years of experience helping people just like you recover from heroin addiction. For starters, we use an evidence-based approach with proven techniques to help you safely detox from heroin and work through the reasons why you started using the drug in the first place.

Your heroin addiction treatment will also include a five-star pro-recovery diet and experiential activities like rock climbing and other types of exercise. Proper nutrition will help your body heal from the damage heroin abuse caused and give your immune system time to recover, while exercise will help you regain your physical strength and retrain your brain to help you feel good naturally, rather than relying on drugs.

Our gold standard continuum of care is just what you need to recover from heroin addiction and strengthen your immune system again. There is no better time to seek addiction rehab than right now, so contact our admissions team to get started.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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