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How Recreational Drug Use Affects Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction

It’s not just street drugs that can be abused, causing sexual dysfunction, but prescription drugs as well.

“Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.”

That was the mantra of the counterculture movement that dominated the news in the closing years of the 1960s and the beginning of the decade that followed. It remains a much-sought-after ideal for hedonistic young people the world over. However, it has some flaws that most fail to consider when contemplating what seems at first glance such an idyllic lifestyle.

Among those in the music industry, there were a number of rising stars who sadly discovered that drugs — especially the overindulgence in drugs — were a one-way ticket to the morgue. And, although it’s hardly quite as fatal a flaw, recreational drug use and sex are not really all that compatible. In fact, based on the results of one study, the negative effects of recreational drug use on erectile function may linger long after a man has stopped using them.

It’s Not Just Street Drugs

Mention recreational drug use in everyday conversation, and many folks still equate that with the use of such illegal substances as cocaine (also in crack form), heroin, methamphetamine, and even marijuana. Even if its long-term effects on sexual function are uncertain, marijuana is still regarded by some, including current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as a gateway drug. This suggests that while marijuana, albeit illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions, almost inexorably leads to the use of stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin. While this is the position of many, it’s hardly been proven conclusively.

Today, perhaps the most insidious form of substance abuse is in the use of powerful prescription drugs by those who far exceed the recommended daily dose of these drugs as well as those who have no prescription for them or any real need to take them. The opioid crisis sweeping the heartland of America and also widespread in other parts of the country has grown into one of the biggest public health threats in recent years. Literally thousands of Americans have succumbed to overdose with these drugs.

Benzodiazepines Also Problematic

Although opioid drug abuse has captured the lion’s share of headlines over the past couple of years, prescription benzodiazepines can be equally addictive and a habit that’s hard to break. Although prescribed less often today than they once were, barbiturates are also subject to abuse, which can damage sexual function and even cause death, particularly when taken in combination with other potent drugs, most notably alcohol.

Because of their potential for abuse, mostly but not solely because of their addictive nature, the Controlled Substances Act lists dozen of drugs that include both prescription medications and street drugs. The CSA is enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, which was established under President Richard Nixon roughly three years after passage of the CSA.

Stimulants Constrict Blood Vessels

Turning first to the drugs widely regarded as illegal, at least in most states, each triggers physiological reactions that are incompatible with optimal sexual function in men — their use can cause erectile dysfunction or a loss of sexual desire. According to Healthline.com, amphetamines, including methamphetamine, its most widely abused form, and cocaine cause blood vessels to narrow, thus preventing the robust blood flow required to achieve and sustain a firm erection. Amphetamines and cocaine are powerful stimulants.

Drugs that tend to depress the central nervous system include alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and heroin. These have a tendency to decrease sexual desire, without which an erection has no real practical purpose.  Marijuana, ironically, tends to fire up the libido but makes it difficult for the smooth muscle tissue lining artery walls to relax. And unless these muscles relax, the arteries are unlikely to expand so that they can carry the increased volume of blood needed to facilitate erection.

The most widely abused prescription drugs also tend to depress the nervous system, which means that they are apt to diminish sexual desire.

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Recapturing Your Mojo Can Be Difficult

Of particular concern to those abusing drugs, including both prescription and street drugs, is the lasting damage they can cause after prolonged use. According to a study published in the February 2013 issue of “The Journal of Sexual Medicine,” the belief that normal sexual function will return once drug use is stopped is not supported by the evidence uncovered.

In fact, the study found disturbing evidence to the contrary. The study was conducted by Pablo Vallejo Medina and Juan Carlos Sierra, both affiliated with the Department of Personality and Psychological Assessment and Treatment, part of the School of Psychology at Spain’s University of Granada.

Study Covers 905 Participants

Erectile dysfunction

The anthem embraced by the rebellious youth of the late 1960s had some very decided drawbacks.

Of the 905 participants in the study, 549 had a history of substance abuse, while the remaining 356 were nondrug users who served as a control group. All participants were assessed using the Drugs version of the Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire. Researchers assessed the study group at multiple intervals during the study period that ran from September 2009 and January 11.

The recovering substance abuse participants, who were drawn from nine different substance abuse treatment facilities, were assessed on multiple measures of sexual function — pleasure, desire, arousal, and orgasm. Judged by those criteria, former drug users were found to be moderately impaired, although the degree and nature of impairment varied based on drug of choice.

Orgasm and Pleasure Hit Hardest

Most significantly impaired were orgasm and pleasure, affecting all former drug users. While the former users of some drugs showed notable declines in desire and arousal, these criteria were not as widely affected in those who abused other substances. Perhaps most disturbing was the finding that former drug users who had abstained from substance abuse for at least a year had poorer sexual function than the control group.

While most evidence indicates that substance abuse negatively affects sexual function, there are plenty of drugs taken precisely as the doctor ordered that can also at least temporarily impair erectile function. These include a wide array of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, many of which you’d probably never expect would interfere with erectile function. A comprehensive list of the categories of such drugs, as well as the specific brand and generic names under which some are sold, can be found at MedlinePlus.com.

Viagra and Nitrates Are Incompatible

Some of the symptoms of sexual dysfunction caused by substance abuse can be overcome by oral ED drugs such as Viagra, all of which belong to a family of medications known as PDE5 inhibitors. Also in this category are Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, and Stendra. But even here, care must be taken not to use these drugs concurrently with certain other medications. For example, nitrate-based drugs prescribed to treat angina and hypertension work by lowering blood pressure. This is also one of the mechanisms involved in the workings of ED drugs. Taken together, these two types of drugs could cause a potentially life-threatening decline in blood pressure.

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About Don Amerman

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+