Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body responds to a serious infection, causing issues in the bloodstream that can spread throughout the body leading to shutdowns of vital organs or systems and even death.
Active drug use, such as with IV drug use, opioid addiction, or addiction to drugs that can lead to chronic constipation are all factors that may cause sepsis.
While many people recognize other dangers of addiction, such as drug overdose, the connection between addiction and sepsis is less universally understood. But certain drugs, both legal and illegal, carry the risks of side effects or overdose symptoms that can lead to sepsis if not treated.
What Are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
Because sepsis is essentially a problem that spreads to the bloodstream, its symptoms can be present throughout the entire body. These may include:
- Drastic body temperature changes
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- Inflammation around an infection site
- Feelings of extreme sickness
If you are experiencing symptoms of sepsis or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to get immediate medical attention by calling 911 right away.
Does Addiction Cause Sepsis?
Can someone get sepsis from addiction? Yes, active addiction can create infections or situations that increase a person’s risk of developing sepsis. For example, an infection from drug use, such as IV drug use infections in the skin, may increase the body’s response to the infection. If the infection is left untreated, it can set the stage for sepsis. One study found that rising sepsis cases in West Virginia were linked to an increase in drug use across many types of drugs. 1
In another case, an emergency room patient checked into a hospital with heart arrhythmia, shortness of breath, blood problems, and red inflammation at previous IV sites throughout her skin. The doctors determined her case to be sepsis, caused by opioid drug use and neglect of initial signs of infection. 2
One common link between addiction and sepsis is IV drug use. This type of drug use may lead to skin infections in some users, including infections such as cellulitis and necrotizing fasciitis. It may also contribute to infections in the heart or other organs. When these infections go untreated, such as infections from skin picking and addiction
, they can worsen and increase a person’s risks of developing sepsis. 3
Non-IV Cases of Sepsis from Addiction
While IV drug use is often linked to cases of sepsis, there are other types of drug addiction and abuse that can also cause sepsis. This condition stems from an infection within the body and the body’s response to severe amounts of unwelcome bacteria within the body.
Other types of drugs can also result in high numbers of bacteria within the body, including opioid abuse and abuse of OTC antidiarrheal medications such as loperamide, which can produce a high when taken in exceptionally and dangerously high quantities. Abuse of opioids and certain OTC medications can result in constipation and impaction that, if unresolved, can result in the intestines reabsorbing bacteria from the impacted material and increase the risk of infection. The impaction can also lead to perforation within the digestive tract, causing the bacteria to spread in the body and increase the risks of sepsis.4
Reducing the Risks of Sepsis
The safest bet for avoiding sepsis risks from drug abuse is to choose the path of sobriety. Addiction can lead to a wealth of problems and health risks, but sobriety helps patients regain control of their health.
- NCBI - The Impact of the Drug Epidemic on the Incidence of Sepsis in West Virginia
- NCBI - Opioid Dependent Malingerer with Self-Induced Sepsis
- Sepsis Alliance - IV Drug Use and Sepsis
- Sepsis Alliance - Perforated Bowel