Substance Abuse and Hypertension

Substance Abuse and Hypertension

Published on February 12, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Substance abuse of any kind is likely to lead to several physical and mental health issues, especially after abuse spirals into active addiction. Hypertension, a condition characterized by high blood pressure that may become chronic, can develop in drug and alcohol users and be very dangerous. Understanding the link between drug abuse and hypertension can help you to avoid this potentially fatal condition, as well as to recognize when to seek professional help.

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, occurs when blood in the body puts excess pressure on the walls of the coronary arteries.  A blood pressure reading measuring your systolic and diastolic pressure can tell you if your blood pressure is within the normal range. Many aspects of your lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure, including being overweight, not staying physically active, smoking, stress, and a poor diet. 

Other factors are less under your control, such as age and genetics. However, one of the most detrimental behaviors for your health, including your blood pressure, is substance abuse. Regularly drinking in excess can lead to chronic hypertension, while drug use can induce a form of secondary high blood pressure that may resolve once drug use ends.

Risks Associated with Hypertension

High blood pressure becomes more dangerous the higher it goes and the longer it goes untreated. Hypertension may result in an aneurysm when blood vessels are weakened and begin to bulge, eventually leading to rupture. Aneurysms can form in any artery, and lead to internal bleeding. About half of all aneurysm cases are fatal.

Problems with the heart are also common in those with high blood pressure including coronary artery disease, enlarged left heart, heart attack, and heart failure.  As blood pressure rises, your heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body, and arteries tend to thicken and harden as a result. Similar complications can also lead to stroke, which occurs when a part of the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, leading to the death of vital brain cells.  Stroke may result in permanent physical and cognitive disabilities or death.

Other issues, such as dementia, metabolic syndrome, damage to the eyes, nerve damage, sexual dysfunction, and problems with other vital organs are also common in those with chronic and drug-induced hypertension. While chronic hypertension typically causes damage over many years, sudden hypertension, sometimes brought on by drug abuse, can lead to a medical emergency that requires immediate care.

How Does Substance Abuse Lead to Hypertension?

The most direct way that drug and alcohol abuse lead to hypertension is by disrupting the central nervous system which is responsible for regulating breathing, heart function, and blood pressure. Other secondary consequences may also occur as a result of drug abuse such as interference with blood pressure medications, activation of the sympathetic nervous system, and the retention of excess sodium and fluid, all of which can contribute to hypertension.

Individuals who also have other risk factors such as smoking, being overweight, or eating a poor diet may be more likely to develop hypertension after abusing substances. Alcohol can affect your blood pressure soon after drinking, especially if you are accustomed to drinking three or more drinks in one sitting.  Most people’s blood pressure returns to normal after alcohol is processed through the body, but chronic binge drinking can lead to problematic hypertension that sticks around in between drinking sessions. 

Some researchers believe this may be a result of withdrawal for those who are addicted to alcohol. Additionally, drinking heavily can lead to other lifestyle changes such as decreased activity and weight gain which also contribute to high blood pressure.  Prescription amphetamines such as Adderall, as well as methamphetamines purchased on the street, are both commonly associated with drug-induced hypertension as well.  

Treating Substance-Induced Hypertension

High blood pressure should always be taken seriously, but perhaps even more so when it is associated with substance abuse.  Treatment for chronic hypertension often involves medication and lifestyle changes such as improved diet and daily exercise. 

High blood pressure also has a psychological component; therefore, treatment often includes mental health care and coping skills for conditions such as anxiety disorder. Benzodiazepine drugs are commonly used to reduce blood pressure and decrease heart rate, especially for those who experience severe anxiety or panic that may induce hypertension.  However, none of these changes will be successful without also addressing substance abuse.

For those struggling with addiction and hypertension, it is important to seek care that will help you to quit using while experiencing minimal withdrawal symptoms, and also help you to create a new lifestyle more conducive to your overall mental and physical health.  Reaching out for professional help for yourself or a loved one suffering from hypertension and addiction can be a life-saving decision.  

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.  We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.  By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing.

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.