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Stroke Risk More Than Doubles for Young Adult Crystal Meth and Cocaine Users

By Emily Oconnor on March 10, 2014

While the link between stimulant drug abuse and stroke risk has been well established, a February 2014 report from the American Heart Association brings this link a little closer to home. Ongoing research findings show young adults who use cocaine on a regular basis face a more immediate risk of stroke with each successive dose.

Stimulants, such as cocaine and crystal meth have direct effects on the body’s central nervous system. Over time these effects leave addicts more susceptible to any number of medical and psychological conditions, however the risk of stroke has become all the more immediate. As with any serious medical episode, certain risk factors make some people more vulnerable than others.

Strokes & Stimulants

Stimulant drugs come in a variety of forms, from the legally prescribed Ritalin and Straterra to the illegally obtained cocaine and crystal meth. While stroke risks exist with any type of stimulant abuse, cocaine and crystal meth place users at an exceptionally high risk of stroke-related incidents.

According to the Southwestern Medical Center, stimulants act on the body’s central nervous system functions, speeding up most every major process in the body. With continued use, the body develops an increasing tolerance to stimulants making it that much more difficult to experience the anticipated “high” effects.

To counteract this tolerance mechanism, users engage in “binging” practices, which involve consuming increasingly larger doses of the drug at greater frequencies. Binging practices place an enormous strain on brain and body functions and mark the threshold where stroke episodes are most likely to occur.

Types of Stroke

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, strokes rank as the third most common cause of death and the number one cause of severe disability in the United States. While cocaine and crack use have contributed to this trend, crystal meth abuse places users at even greater risk of stroke.

Two types of strokes can occur from ongoing stimulant use: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes result from blockages in the arteries leading to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain burst and bleeding into the brain takes place.

Hospital data collected from long-term studies on stroke diagnoses show the risk of hemorrhagic strokes increases fivefold for young people who abuse crystal meth compared to non-crystal meth users. As of 2007, drug-induced stroke episodes accounted for nine percent of the total number of strokes, according to the American Stroke Association.

Risk Factors

For young adults, risk factors affecting the likelihood of stimulant-induced stroke episodes have more to do with drug use patterns than anything else. People with a history of stimulant use were no more at risk than those just starting out on stimulant drugs. People from different ethnicities were all found to be equally susceptible to stimulant-induced stroke risks.

Binging, also known as acute drug use places users at the highest risk with stroke episodes occurring within 24 hours of acute drug use. Users who engage in binging behaviors are six to seven times more likely to experience ischemic stroke episodes within a 24-hour period. In effect, young people who engage in binging practices remain at risk regardless of how long they’ve been abusing drugs.

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