Drug-related cardiac arrest is a prevalent cause of death. It’s the leading cause of death among illicit drug users—and it’s on the rise. According to one recent study published in the British Medical Journal, there was an 81% increase in deaths from cocaine-associated cardiac arrest between 2001 and 2017.
It’s important to note that it’s not just illegal drugs that can trigger a heart attack. Even legally-prescribed painkillers and medicines such as amphetamines can cause serious problems. Many people using these drugs never think about their effects on their bodies, but it’s crucial to understand what you’re putting into your system so you don’t find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
Drugs More Likely to Cause a Heart Attack
In general, cardiac arrest increases for those who take drugs like cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and opioids. Alcohol is also a significant risk factor. This list isn’t comprehensive, but these are some of the most frequently used drugs associated with causing cardiac arrest.
Cocaine is a stimulant. It speeds up your heart rate, leading to more oxygen demand on the heart. In turn, this increases the risk of a heart attack. Complications from cocaine abuse can cause congestive heart failure in 7% of cases, arrhythmias in 17% of cases, and sudden death in at least 2% of cases. Cocaine can also cause a stroke or sudden death, even in people who do not have any history of heart disease. It can also cause irregular heart rhythms and cardiac arrest.
While it may not be as addictive as cigarettes, marijuana can also put you at risk for a heart attack. It can cause sudden increases in your heart rate and blood pressure, affecting how your blood clots. Roughly 4.1% of patients hospitalized for heart attacks also had cannabis use disorder. When combined with other drugs like cocaine or alcohol, the risks are even more significant.
Heroin is a powerful opioid. It can cause severe side effects like low blood pressure, slow breathing, low body temperature, and slower heart rate. Mixing heroin with other drugs that also slow breathing can be fatal. In addition, heroin contains toxins that can cause blockages in the veins and restrict blood in the cardiovascular system. Ongoing heroin use can cause “heroin heart” or infectious endocarditis, a condition characterized by infections of the heart valves that can lead to death.
Opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl are the most common causes of cardiac arrest. At least 3% of cardiac arrest hospitalization occurred in opioid users, and the mortality rate in cardiac arrest patients with opioid use was almost 57%. Opioids can cause changes in the heart’s rhythm that could increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It might alow cause low blood pressure and heart failure.
The effects of alcohol on the heart depend on how much you drink, how often you drink, and how long you’ve been drinking. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, leading to problems with your coronary arteries. Alcohol also affects blood clotting and heart rate. Alcohol addiction can weaken and thin the heart muscles, leading to heart failure and other life-threatening health problems.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. This drug can cause blood vessels to constrict and spasm, causing spikes in blood pressure. It can also cause heart problems like cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), hypertrophy (thickening of the heart walls), and sudden cardiac arrest. Abusing meth increases your risk of heart attack and stroke by three to five times.
Seeking Help for Addiction
The number of illicit and prescription drug users is increasing. If you or someone you know is using drugs, please know there’s help available. Contact your physician or reach out to your local rehab center to learn more about the treatment options. While addiction is a hard-to-fight battle, it doesn’t have to end in a death sentence. Recovery is at grasp, and it can start here.