Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our kidneys until something goes wrong. But this pair of organs plays an essential role in our well-being and survival. Kidney disease is more common than you might think, and it’s the ninth-leading cause of death in the United States.1
While substance abuse can cause serious damage to many of your body’s organs, it can have a particularly harmful impact on your kidneys. In honor of Kidney Health Month, this article will uncover the different ways that substance abuse can affect the kidneys.
Alcohol Abuse and the Kidneys
The main job of your kidneys is to filter your blood, removing dangerous substances—including alcohol. While an occasional drink won’t have a negative impact on your kidneys, prolonged alcohol abuse will affect the kidneys’ ability to do their job.
Another function of the kidneys is to maintain the right balance of water in the body. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect, and ongoing alcohol abuse can put significant stress on the kidneys as they attempt to do their job and maintain the correct level of fluids in the body.
The Impact of Drug Abuse on the Kidneys
A number of commonly abused drugs can have serious effects on the kidneys, causing irreversible damage and even kidney failure. Some of these drugs include:2
- Synthetic cannabinoids
These drugs harm the kidneys in different ways. An overdose of heroin can cause a dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis, where muscle tissue breaks down and releases proteins into the bloodstream. Some of these proteins can cause obstructions that impair kidney function.
MDMA use can cause severely high blood pressure, which can damage the kidneys. Although some kidney problems caused by substance abuse can be successfully treated, other conditions are irreversible. Some kidney patients end up requiring dialysis treatment for the rest of their lives; for others, a kidney transplant is necessary for survival.
Smoking and Kidney Function
In addition to alcohol and other drugs, tobacco use has also been found to increase the risk of various kidney complications. Nicotine, which is found in tobacco products, is known to cause elevated blood pressure; this, in turn, can lead to kidney damage.
For people who are already dealing with kidney problems, smoking can accelerate these issues and even cause kidney failure. Even exposure to secondhand smoke has been found to increase the risk of kidney problems in individuals who live with at least one smoker in their household.3
How to Get Help Before the Damage Is Done
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to know that hope and healing are available. Continued drug or alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to your kidneys and other organs, but these devastating consequences don’t have to happen to you.
Speak to an addiction treatment specialist today to learn about your options for entering recovery. With the right treatment, you can overcome addiction and avoid serious, and even deadly, health risks.