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4 Ways Drugs Damage the Kidneys

4 Ways Drugs Damage the Kidneys Resurgence Behavioral Health

How the Kidneys Function

The kidneys’ main job is to filter blood, detoxifying and removing excess waste as urine, which then travels to the bladder. They also maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body (sodium, potassium, calcium, acid, and magnesium), prevent waste buildup in the blood, and produce hormones to keep blood pressure stable, make red blood cells, and keep bones strong.

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Drugs That Can Damage Your Kidneys

The kidney processes all drugs and alcohol like a toxin and can be injured or damaged by drug use. There are several drugs that can damage your kidneys, affecting their ability to filter blood and expel waste, especially after long-term, chronic use. It is not only chronic drug addicts that suffer from kidney diseases, as the issues are caused include legal and illegal substances like:

Tobacco – Smoking causes a sped-up progression of kidney disease for people with pre-existing comorbidities, and is a contributor to the development of renal lupus, kidney inflammation, and the narrowing of renal arteries, affecting blood flow. Nicotine is also a toxin that damages kidneys, and it also increases blood pressure, exacerbates kidney diseases, and increases the risk of kidney failure in people with diabetes and other co-occurring conditions.

Painkillers – Long-term use or overuse of acetaminophen, an ingredient in many over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol, as well as in opioid painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, can cause two types of kidney damage: chronic kidney failure, and analgesic nephropathy, a serious condition that requires a kidney transplant or dialysis.

Heroin – Heroin use causes decreased breathing and heart rates that can lead to overdose, coma, and death. These effects can also cause dehydration, acidosis, low blood pressure, and oxygen deficiencies that break down muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis), resulting in kidney problems. Intravenous heroin use also comes with risks of contracting bacterial and fungal infections and can cause a protein buildup in the organs, situations that lead to kidney inflammation that causes renal failure.

MDMA – MDMA is a party drug that causes the body temperature to rise to dangerous levels, leading to the breakdown of muscle tissues (rhabdomyolysis). It can also make hypertension or high blood pressure conditions worse, resulting in acute renal failure or injury to the kidneys.

Inhalants – People who inhale household products like glue or cleaning products to achieve a high are also inhaling toluene, a toxin that causes kidney lesions and renal tubular acidosis (acid build-up in the blood), conditions that can lead to kidney disease and failure.

Cocaine – Cocaine abuse is harmful to your kidneys as it causes rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown) that leads to kidney issues, with around 33% of people in the hospital due to cocaine-related complaints having kidney failure. Cocaine use can also lead to renal infarction and a plaque buildup in the kidney walls, disrupting blood flow and damaging kidney tissues.

Alcohol – Any alcohol consumption will aggravate the liver, resulting in indirect harm to the kidneys, and drinking heavily or binge drinking will contribute to kidney toxicity, damaging the organs. Alcohol use also causes electrolyte and fluid imbalances, alkalosis (low blood acidity), or alcoholic ketoacidosis (dangerously high blood acidity)

Kidney Diseases Caused By Drug Use

When you use drugs and alcohol, most of these substances are filtered and excreted through the kidneys. When kidneys are exposed to toxins, their functioning may be compromised, and the more damaged the kidneys become, the more prone to toxicity from drugs they become. If a person becomes tolerant to a drug and begins to take more to achieve a high, this amplifies the damage to the kidneys. Damage may include:

1. Acute Kidney Failure

Acute renal failure (ARF), or drug-induced renal failure (DIRF), is a serious disease characterized by a sudden loss of kidney function, resulting in imbalances of electrolytes, fluids, and acids in the blood, and causing the body to hold in waste products like creatinine and urea, rather than expelling them. Symptoms of ARF include fatigue, difficulty eating, nausea and vomiting, itchy skin, and a confused mental state. Shortness of breath and seizures may also occur.  

Drug use is the cause of approximately 20% of all cases of acute kidney failure, and among older adults, this number may be as high as 66%, but this is due to comorbidities like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and the fact that many older people are taking multiple medications at once.

Renal impairment is often reversible if the drug use is discontinued immediately, but it may still require long-term treatment or multiple treatments, including hospitalization.

2. Kidney Lesions

A kidney lesion is an area of abnormal tissue, that may be benign “simple” cysts or lesions, or cancerous masses, found on the kidney. One in four kidney masses is benign, with the other 75% being diagnosed as renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer).

Any kidney injury or damage done to kidney cells can lead to abnormal growth over time, and drugs like cocaine and heroin are often cut with carcinogenic substances like Phenacetin that have been linked to renal cell carcinoma.

Treatment for non-cancerous kidney lesions is often surgery, or your doctor may opt to leave it if it is not growing or if surgery would be dangerous for you as a patient, providing active surveillance to watch for any changes or renal complications. If the lesions are cancerous, surgery or another appropriate course of treatment will be recommended.

3. Renal Infarction

Renal infarction is an interruption of normal blood supply to the kidney due to blood clots, scarring, or vasculitis. When blood flow is restricted, tissue damage occurs, impairing kidney function and causing renal disease. A renal infarction itself is rarely a deadly disease, unless you only have one kidney, or are on the brink of renal failure. This condition may cause other health issues like hypertension and can create an environment that is more conducive to strokes and heart issues later on.

Renal infarctions due to drug use are usually associated with cocaine because of the cardiovascular issues cocaine can cause, although heroin, MDMA, and amphetamines have also been linked to this condition.

4. Liver Disease

The liver is a blood filter like the kidneys, metabolizing fat-soluble drugs into water-soluble forms that can be passed out of the body through the urine and bile. The liver is good at its job, but when it is overloaded with toxins (if multiple substances are taken at once or if a person uses them to excess), drug-induced liver injury (DILI) occurs.

This includes:

  • Drug-induced hepatitis – the liver becomes inflamed, and cannot do its job properly
  • Cirrhosis – irreversible scarring of the liver blocks blood flow and inhibits proper functioning
  • Alcoholic hepatitis – co-occurs with cirrhosis, and is fatal in 30% to 50% of cases, with high blood pressure in the liver, bleeding issues, brain dysfunction due to toxins in the blood, and a high rate of developing secondary infections

Liver disease may be caused by drugs and alcohol, and even herbs and dietary supplements. People who take too much acetaminophen, drink too much, or use illicit drugs will develop liver injuries.

People who have the liver disease have an increased risk of experiencing issues with their kidneys. People with cirrhosis often have enlarged kidneys (up to 33% enlargement), compromised electrolyte and fluid handling, and acute kidney failure.

Stopping the use of all substances can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, even reversing some of the early issues caused by drug-induced liver injuries.

Healing From the Impacts of Drug Use at Resurgence Behavioral Health

If you or a loved one are suffering the health impacts of drug use and want to stop substance abuse in a safe and effective manner, contact Resurgence Behavioral Health alcohol and drug rehab center. We offer:

  • Integrated medication assisted treatment (MAT) protocols (medical detox) for alcohol and drug detox, including medications to keep you comfortable and healthy as you detox, as well as comprehensive medical care, therapy, dual diagnosis treatments for mental illness and PTSD, and counseling, in a whole-patient approach to healing.
  • A full continuum of care leads from detox to inpatient drug rehab, through to our customizable outpatient programs including a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Some of the treatments provided during rehab include cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy, nutrition and exercise coaching, life skills training, and EMDR.
  • Aftercare and resources for you once your rehab program is complete, including alumni gatherings, 12-step and SMART recovery meetings, sober living home options, and a long-term outpatient program that will keep you connected to doctors and psychiatric care for as long as you need.

With Resurgence, detoxing and rehabilitation is a reliable process, provided by our caring staff and medical team, many of whom are in recovery themselves. Our residential treatment programs include structured daily living in a comfortable environment, promoting health and wellness while helping you heal the underlying causes of your addiction and learn recovery skills. Outpatient care is an extension of these treatments as you transition back to your regular life, and with our full support, relapse prevention training, and alumni network, you will never be alone in your recovery.

We provide heroin addiction and cocaine addiction treatment, prescription drug addiction treatment, and alcohol rehab at Resurgence substance abuse treatment center.

Call us today to learn more about quitting drinking and using recreational drugs to avoid kidney disease, kidney cancer, and associated health problems due to renal complications.

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Alexa Iocco

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