COVID-19 and potential implications for substance users

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Drug addiction
The Hader Clinic
The Hader Clinic
April 1, 2020
minute read

Understanding the compounding risks of drug abuse and respiratory illness

As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to have a huge political, economic, and social impact across the planet, the scientific fallout of the issue is also increasing.

According to the latest research by the United States' National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), substance abusers are likely at a higher risk of succumbing to the disease.

This article will investigate why the coronavirus disease is so harmful to substance users. We will also take an in-depth look at high risk substances, why COVID-19 can lead to higher mortality rates, and how the disease affects other areas of the self.

The Hader Clinic is here to help patients overcome drug addiction and alcohol addiction issues. We offer priority admission to our clean and safe inpatient rehabilitation facilities.

What is coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

[content_aside] COVID-19 is an emerging health threat affecting the entire population of the world. At time of publishing, all of the information contained herein is correct. However, The Hader Clinic is no substitute for a doctor. Please follow directions from government officials and healthcare professionals for ways to prevent the spread of the disease. [/content_aside]

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have been transmitted to humans from wild animals. It is an acute respiratory disease that focuses on the respiratory tract, leading to symptoms that are likened to the seasonal flu.

However, when the human body is already compromised, COVID-19 is increasingly effective, leading to a much higher mortality rate than a normal cold or flu.

A rise in asymptomatic and undiagnosed cases has spread the disease far and wide, attacking vulnerable members of the population who have underlying health concerns including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Old age

Lung diseases related to smoking (including cardio-obstructive pulmonary disease) also put patients at a higher mortality risk than the general population. Other substances can also affect treatment and recovery.

COVID-19 and substances

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control (China CDC) — the frontline organisation on the ground in Wuhan, where the disease was first identified — has put forward some alarming statistics about the increased mortality rate of COVID-19-positive patients with existing respiratory disease.

  • The case fatality rate for COVID-19 was 6.3 per cent for those with chronic respiratory disease.
  • This compares to a 2.3 per cent fatality rate for the general population.

Respiratory diseases can be caused by inhaling or consuming drugs and alcohol. Let's have a look at some of the most dangerous.

Smoking and vaping with COVID-19

Cigarettes and smoking marijuana take a toll on the lungs, leading to a range of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also shown that vaping aerosols may also put increased pressure on the lungs, diminishing their capacity to respond to infection.

One study concluded that mice exposed to vaping aerosols with existing respiratory diseases suffered greater infection than those without.

Opioids and COVID-19

Opioids act on the brainstem and slow breathing, which presents a different set of challenges than respiratory disease. Lack of oxygen caused by COVID-19 and opioid abuse may lead to diminished lung capacity and eventual brain damage, if continued for a period of time.

Chronic respiratory disease is already a contributing factor in opioid-related deaths. It stands to reason that COVID-19 will lead to more deaths of opioid users.

Methamphetamine and COVID-19

A key factor of methamphetamine (ice) abuse is that it places great strain on the cardiovascular system by constricting the blood vessels. Patients presenting with comorbid effects of COVID-19 and pulmonary damage brought on by ice use may be at higher risk of long term complications and death.

Other issues related to COVID-19 and substance abuse

The effects of COVID-19 and substance abuse are far-reaching, and go beyond the physical effects. As well as these, both issues have a range of effects on the social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual facets of a person.


COVID-19 has put pressure on markets around the world, leading to job loss and economic instability. When paired with substance abuse, these factors can snowball, leading to:

  • Loss of income and housing
  • Withdrawal from social bonds
  • Greater likelihood of incarceration
  • Stigmatisation from the health care system


Serious pandemics can create worldwide panic and environments of fear. There are a range of emotional responses that line up with substance abuse issues, including:

  • Anger and rage
  • Uncertainty about future
  • Increased fear
  • Irrationality


The psychological impact of COVID-19 has not really been investigated. However, quarantine and personal isolation can be incredibly trying for individuals, especially those with a substance problem. Symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal ideation


The state of the world isn't great, and this realisation can come with a range of spiritual effects. Some of the most prevalent effects for substance-prone COVID-19-positive patients may include:

  • Disassociation with reality
  • Ongoing withdrawal from activities
  • Damaged relationships with friends and family
  • A damaged relationship with the self

What you can do

There's a lot going on in the world at the moment. All of these spinning plates can lead to high rates of substance abuse, which in turn can lead to greater COVID-19 mortality rates.

If you have a loved one that might be of higher risk because of their association with substances, it's time to take action. By removing them from society and placing them in inpatient care, your loved one has an even greater chance of overcoming their abuse problems and avoiding the compounding harmful effects of COVID-19.

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