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The Effects of Prescription Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Your Kidneys

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The Effects of Prescription Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Your Kidneys

It’s fairly common knowledge that excess alcohol consumption takes a toll on the liver and kidneys. But did you know that many pharmaceutical drugs put a strain on the kidneys, as well?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the toll that prolonged alcohol and/or prescription drug use can have on your kidneys. We will also touch on whether your kidneys can heal if you’re able to put a stop to drinking or prescription drug use.

The Kidneys’ Role in the Body

The kidneys are not only a cornerstone of the urinary system, but they are two of the most vital organs in the body.

Among the kidneys’ many functions in the body, here are five of their primary roles:

  • Filtering the blood to remove toxins and waste
  • Regulating the volume and concentration of the body’s fluids
  • Helping keep the body’s blood pressure balanced and under control
  • Releasing a hormone that impacts the body’s production of red blood cells
  • Maintaining the right amount of water in the body

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Kidneys?

Even casual alcohol use will put the kidneys to work, filtering the toxins out of the blood and trying to bring the body’s fluid back to normal levels. Alcohol also has a drying effect, which will lower the amount of water in the body, even if the person is sipping water in between alcoholic beverages.

While a drink or two won’t affect a person’s blood pressure in the long term, prolonged heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, which usually isn’t an issue among moderate and non-drinkers. More than two drinks per day increase one’s chances of developing high blood pressure. Furthermore, high blood pressure is one of the chief causes of kidney disease.

In the short term, binge drinking does run the risk of causing acute kidney failure, which is when the two organs essentially give up because they can’t keep up with the demand of filtering toxins from the blood. This usually doesn’t have long-lasting effects, so long as person survived the kidney failure, but repeated binge drinking episodes could lead to lasting kidney damage.

It’s worth noting that not only does alcohol use make the kidneys work much harder at the moment, but excessive, prolonged drinking can actually change the chemistry of the kidneys. This means they will no longer perform as efficiently as they did before the person started drinking heavily. The individual will be perpetually dehydrated, malnourished and lethargic if his or her kidneys ever reach that point.

How Do Prescription Drugs Affect the Kidneys?

Certain prescription and even over-the-counter drugs can make the kidneys work overtime. In some cases, it’s the active ingredient that comes into conflict with the kidneys, in other cases, it’s the additives in pharmaceutical drugs that pose a problem.

In fact, medications play a role in up to 25 percent of acute kidney injuries. Some doctors will even warn patients with kidney issues not to take certain over-the-counter medications.

According to GoodRx.com, these are some of the worst medications for your kidneys:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, Motrin, Advil, etc.)
  • Vancomycin (an antibiotic that treats MRSA)
  • Diuretics (aka water pills, which help the body release excess salt and water)
  • Iodinated radiocontrast (a dye used in CT scans with contrast)
  • Jardiance (a newer diabetes medication)
  • HIV medications (antiretrovirals)
  • Zoledronate (aka zoledronic acid, used to treat osteoporosis)

Opioid painkillers are also known to be hard on the kidneys, especially ones like Vicodin and Percocet, which contain acetaminophen. Just as Motrin and Advil cause issues in the kidneys, acetaminophen-based medications like Tylenol can be nearly as damaging. Long-term use of drugs with acetaminophen can lead to renal failure or chronic kidney failure. If the condition gets severe enough, the person may have to undergo dialysis and, eventually, a kidney transplant.

Prescription opioid abuse can break down muscles and tissues in the body, releasing proteins into the blood. One of those proteins in myoglobin, which can cause obstruction and kidney damage. Excessive protein buildup in the organs and tissues can lead to kidney failure.

Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts inside the kidneys. As you’ve probably heard, or may know firsthand, passing a kidney stone is incredibly painful. Sometimes these stones can get stuck in the urinary tract, which could cause infections and require surgery.

Those who don’t drink enough water or who sweat a lot are at a higher risk for kidney stones. A diet high in salt and sugar can also increase one’s risk of stones. And if you’ve already had a kidney stone, you’re at risk of getting more of them.

So, can alcohol cause kidney stones? Quite possibly, but there’s not a clear answer. First of all, medical experts still aren’t 100 percent sure of many of the causes of kidney stones. They have only identified a few scenarios that seem to put people more at risk.

An Indirect Connection Between Alcohol and Kidney Stones

To be clear, drinking alcohol is not directly tied to kidney stones, at least at this time. However, alcohol may put several processes in motion that could lead to the development of kidney deposits. As mentioned earlier, alcohol dries out the body. And as you just read, not enough water in the body can be a precursor to a kidney stone.

People who drink a lot of alcohol may try to drink large amounts of water concurrently to try to avoid dehydration, but this is rarely the case. Alcohol is going to deplete the water level in the body regardless, so getting back to a normal hydration level is going to entail refraining from alcohol for a while. It’s also true that alcoholics tend to make poor dietary choices, and this often means sugary and salty foods, which can make kidney stones more likely.

And finally, it’s worth noting that beverages such as beer and spirits with grain alcohol have a heavy purine count. Purines are chemical compounds that have been tied to uric acid kidney stones. A high purine count in the body can lead to the accumulation of uric acid, which may result in a kidney stone.

What to Do If You’re Addicted to Alcohol or Prescription Drugs

If you’ve had kidney problems and become dependent or alcohol or a certain pharmaceutical drug, then it’s time to seek help to learn to abstain from the damaging substance. Especially if you’ve already had a kidney stone, then you’re at risk for developing and passing another. Stopping your alcohol or prescription drug use will help immensely.

The good news is that, like the liver, you kidneys can regenerate themselves to a degree – so long as you haven’t reached the point of kidney disease or other permanent damage. If you’re able to abstain from the substance you’ve been abusing, improved kidney health is possible.

Entering a professional rehab program will not only help you learn to let go of substance use, but many programs have nutritional counseling and therapy services to help you make wiser dietary decisions. Following their advice and staying sober will improve your health comprehensively, kidneys and otherwise.

Fight Addiction Now can help you find the right recovery program for your needs, no matter where you are in the United States. Contact us for expert guidance in your search for treatment.

Take the ‘Am I Addicted to My Meds?’

Is Pain Management and Care Being Forgotten in the Fight Against Opioids?

Pain Management and Care Being Forgotten in Fight Against Opioids - Fight Addiction Now

Opioids – A Blessing Turned into a Curse?

The opioid epidemic in America has received so much attention that it makes some wonder whether all of the recent media and government involvement is helping or hurting our citizens in the long run.

The White House has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year from opioid-related deaths.

And yet, pain management is a real issue. We should have the right to pain-controlling medications when needed. And right now, opioids are the most effective option to combat severe or chronic pain.

Pain Management and Care in Relation to the Opioid Epidemic

Ending the Addiction Stigma Fight Addiction NowA new study published in the journal JAMA Surgery found that post-surgical patients are at increased risk of addiction because of the pain medication necessary during recovery. The researchers concluded that patients should be administered smaller doses of pain meds post-surgery and counseled on the risks and proper uses of opioids.

For a year now, Michigan’s University Hospital has been implementing these new guidelines of dispensing fewer post-op pills. The results have been favorable, as evidenced by:

  • Patients’ reported pain not increasing
  • Requests for refills remaining the same
  • Patients actually using fewer pills

Opioid Laws

Opioids have long been a controlled substance, but new laws in half of the U.S. now limit the number of pills a doctor can prescribe at one time. More hospitals are implementing the practices adopted at Michigan’s University Hospital.

The current regulatory climate is focused on reducing the number of pills dispensed and discouraging patients from using opioids unless as a last resort. Many states expect doctors to present certain talking points to their patients. In many cases, state law requires patients to sign a document affirming they understand the risks and rules of opioids.

Problems in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

The vast number of overdose deaths related to opioids seems to have frightened America into single-mindedly setting a mission to reduce those sheer numbers. There are many who are caught up in the struggle of opioid addiction. But what about those who are caught up in the struggle against chronic pain?

Are people who suffer with daily pain now S.O.L. and without help?

A nationwide survey finds that 34 percent of doctors feel that moving away from prescribing painkillers for patients with chronic pain issues may be hurting people. More than one-third of the physicians polled reported that pulling back on pain medications prolongs patients’ misery.

Quality of Life Questions

To deny someone suffering in pain the medication we have available through science is a travesty. If we have the medical knowledge available to help people, we should use it.

At the same time, we don’t want to harm others’ quality of life by allowing addictive and potentially lethal medications to go unchecked and rampantly used for nonmedical purposes.

Insurance Issues

One aspect people forget to consider in this fight against opioids is what people can afford based on what their insurance covers. Insurance companies often do not cover Schedule III drugs. Drugs in this class are far less addictive and often equally effective at managing pain. Many insurance plans do cover drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl, Schedule II drugs, which are more addictive opioids.

Oftentimes, insurance companies require burdensome prior authorizations for drugs like buprenorphine, an effective Schedule III opioid drug. Prior authorizations require time and research from the doctor’s office and are only approved under certain conditions. This is annoying for doctors and pharmacies alike, and can mean a potential waiting period for patients to receive their medication — if it ever gets approved.

Buprenorphine works well for chronic pain while avoiding the typical tolerance and severe respiratory depression that comes with most Schedule II opioids, which do not require a prior authorization.

Why? Money. Pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are big business. And insurance companies pay for the cheapest effective drugs first. So, because certain opioids are cheaper, doctors and insurers push these medications to patients first.

Ethical Implications

Insurers restricting more expensive but less addictive painkillers just doesn’t seem right. A doctor’s oath includes the promise to “do no harm.” But insurance companies take no such oaths and make no such promises. They focus on their bottom line. But is this ethical? Is this in the best interest of patients?

Perhaps it keeps premiums lower. But it begs the question, “Should insurance companies be for-profit to begin with?”

Doctors have received a lot of criticism for prescribing opioids, but maybe insurers should shoulder some of that blame. It sure seems like insurers are trying to remove the responsibility from themselves and not factor in the best care and quality of life of the insured.

Now, because of the harrowing opioid problem, insurance companies are starting to limit the opioid medication they will cover.

Many insurance companies cover very little in the way of addiction treatment. That raises another debate that if the insurers are contributing to the problem but unwilling to fix it, where does that leave patients?

Weigh In

What do we do to balance the opioid addiction crisis in the scales of chronic pain sufferers? We want to hear you weigh in on the debate!

Have we lost sight of the real problems of the opioid epidemic? Are people in pain suffering needlessly? Or are we just continuing to shuffle blame and not coming up with real solutions to help those affected by opioid addiction and chronic pain?

Chime in with your opinions and experiences! Be part of the debate, the search for answers and finding a solution. We invite your comments below, or feel free to discuss this topic in our forum.