Addiction, the Coronavirus and Six Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Illness

Face masks drying

The arrival of a coronavirus pandemic has many of us nervously checking symptoms and lists of health conditions that might predispose us to this illness. Certainly, if we contract the virus, we want a mild case of it. We don’t want to be one of the people who needs to be rushed to the ICU and placed on a ventilator. Or worse yet, one of the people who loses the fight for their life.

It’s important for anyone struggling with addiction to note that this coronavirus pandemic could pose a particularly serious threat to their health and survival.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has announced that COVID-19 could hit the community of those with substance abuse disorders particularly hard.

Let’s look at why this is and how to reduce the risk.

About Coronavirus and COVID-19

The word coronavirus actually refers to a group of viruses, some of which cause illness. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease that results from the specific type of coronavirus causing the pandemic. COVID is short for COrona VIrus Disease.

Most everyone has heard about the symptoms it can cause:

  • Shortness of breath that can turn into severe respiratory distress
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue

Especially at this time, having the highest immunity possible is a very good idea. Unfortunately, anyone who can’t quit using drugs or drinking excessively when they want to is at greater-than-average risk. That’s because drug use or chronic excessive alcohol has long been known to suppress a person’s immune system.

Conditions that Increase the Risks Associated with COVID-19

Here are the conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention associates with a greater risk for serious cases of COVID-19:

  • Heart disease including hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic lung disease including COPD
  • Chronic renal (kidney) disease
  • Smoking
  • Being immunocompromised
  • Drug and alcohol use

How Do These Conditions Relate to Drug or Alcohol Use?

Man with a fever

Compare below the conditions causing greater risk to the health effects of the most common drugs causing substance use disorders:

  • Cocaine: Greatly increases the blood pressure, resulting in intense stress on the heart and vascular system. The result can be an enlarged, thickened heart that can no longer pump blood effectively.
  • Heroin and opioids: Heroin suppresses the body’s ability to breathe. Chronic users have been found with lung abscesses, scarred air passages and pneumonia.
  • Marijuana: Smoking pot causes the lungs to open and then constrict. One study found that smoking one joint resulted in the same lung congestion as smoking 2.5 to 5 cigarettes. The American Lung Association notes that smoking marijuana injures the lining of air passages, which can lead to chronic cough and bronchitis.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption has been shown to lower the drinker’s immune system meaning that the sick person has a harder time recovering from such illnesses as tuberculosis or pneumonia.
  • Methamphetamine: Can cause extremely high blood pressure, stroke, or cardiovascular collapse; meth users often live very poor lifestyles with minimal nutrition or rest. Meth can also cause kidney injury.

Now, Six Ways to Reduce the Risk

Number 1:

The first one is extremely obvious. Get help to quit using drugs or drinking excessively right away. Go to your family and ask for help and support. If they are not aware of the connection between drug or alcohol use and lowered immunity, explain it to them. Find a rehab or meetings or support groups. But don’t wait. This may be the most critically important time for you to get sober.

Number 2:

If you smoke cigarettes, stop.

Number 3:

Heathy food

Take action to increase your basic health. Try to eat fresh foods like fruits and vegetables as often as you can. Get enough clean, fresh water every day. Get enough sleep on a regular schedule.

Number 4:

Try to minimize your exposure to stressful situations. This isn’t always possible but if there are particularly stressful situations that you can avoid for a while, do so.

Number 5:

Get some extroversion, exercise and sunlight. Even in the cities or states with the most stringent stay-at-home restrictions, walking, running or hiking for exercise are permitted.

Number 6:

Keep your home disinfected. Wash your hands frequently, especially when returning home. Ensure your home has adequate ventilation.

Help yourself. Help others. Do what you can to protect yourself and those you care about during this pandemic. And if you are motivated to eliminate drugs, alcohol and cigarettes from your life at this time, you'll be way ahead of the game when this pandemic dies out.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, MCAP LADC, RAS


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.