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It doesn't only cause hangovers, damaged relationships, and lowered job prospect. Abusing drugs and alcohol may also leave people vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, says a study by the National Institutes of Health.
The NIH study found that those who abuse drugs or alcohol made up 10.3% of the study group, but accounted for 15.6% of the confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Not only were those with substance abuse disorder more likely to be infected with coronavirus, they were also more likely to be hospitalized or killed by the disease that has infected more than 10 million Americans. "Substance abuse disorder" is the term professionals use for people who have been diagnosed with drug and alcohol problems.
Study analyst Dr. Nora Volkow and colleagues studied data from more than 73 million patients based on records from 360 hospitals nationwide. She said physical problems involving the heart, lungs, and related body parts may help explain the higher risk.
“Another contributing factor is the marginalization of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access health care services," Dr. Volkow said.
She encouraged health care workers to meet the needs of patients who abuse drugs and alcohol "just as they would any other high-risk group."
The patients with the highest risk abuse opioids, and those who abuse tobacco had the second-highest risk, according to the study.
Drug addiction takes its toll on both users and their families, says MedicineNet medical author Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD. She notes difficulty finding and keeping jobs, higher risks of domestic violence, and children who have greater difficulty in school, with friends, and with their own health.
Children of parents with a substance use disorder are at higher risk for impaired social, educational, and health functioning, as well as being at higher risk for using drugs themselves.
"There are (also) many potential medical complications," Dr. Dryden-Edwards said, calling death a "highly possible complication" due to such things as heroin overdose and heart attack following cocaine or amphetamine use.
Other medical complications affect those who abuse alcohol, including brain damage, liver failure, and heart failure, she said.
Tobacco has its own set of health consequences, MedicineNet medical author Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, said. Some of these are well-known, such as addiction and (for smokers) lung cancer.
"Smoking is the most preventable cause of death," Dr. Stöppler said. "Approximately 484,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from smoking-related illnesses. This represents almost 1 out of every 5 deaths."
Authors of the NIH study say their work underscores the need to screen for and treat substance use disorder. They encourage further research into the best ways to treat people for substance use, as well as counseling on the best ways to prevent infection.
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