How to Manage Parkinson’s and Addiction

Medical research is discovering connections between some health conditions and substance use disorder that may come as a shock to the general public. As research in the field of addiction continues, an increasing awareness of the magnitude of consequences to physical and mental health grows.

Relatively recent research has identified a link between Parkinson’s disease and drug abuse. The findings indicate that it’s not Parkinson’s disease that causes drug addiction; rather, in some cases, drug addiction can cause individuals to show symptoms and signs that are typical of Parkinson’s disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

research has identified a link between Parkinson's disease and drug abuseParkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that impacts a person’s movement and coordination. It is thought that Parkinson’s disease develops due to the death of neurons in the brain, specifically in the substantia nigra region. At present, it is estimated that 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease. This serious health condition typically worsens over time.

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but there is a consensus among scientists that genetics and the environment each play a key role in the development of symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s. In terms of genetics, some research supports that Parkinson’s disease can develop due to one genetic mutation of the gene LRRK2. When this is the case, more than one individual in a family with this genetic mutation will develop Parkinson’s disease.

Regarding environmental causes, research suggests that the use of certain drugs can set off chemical events in the brain that lead to the onset of Parkinson’s disease or at least the development of symptoms typically associated with this disorder.

The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a major role in Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine is a key chemical player in a person’s ability to control motion and coordination. Over time, a person with Parkinson’s disease will produce less and less dopamine. The most common symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease are:

  • Slow movement.
  • Tremors.
  • Limb and core body stiffness.
  • Problems balancing.

How Are Parkinson’s Disease and Substance Use Disorders Linked?

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is still largely unknown, according to some studies illicit drug use may be at least partially responsible for the development of Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms. Certain substances, like heroin and methamphetamines, affect similar areas of the brain that are impacted by Parkinson’s disease.

Heroin and Parkinson’s Disease

The first known case of drug-induced Parkinson’s disease occurred in California, in 1982. A 42-year-old man, George Carillo, was admitted to the hospital due to complications related to his recent heroin abuse. The attending emergency room doctors were surprised that Carillo was presenting with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a health condition that affects one in every 100 Americans over 60 years of age. In the emergency room, Carillo was mute, drooling, and his muscles appeared to be frozen. These symptoms were shocking to the attending chief neurologist, Dr. J. William Langston as it is especially rare to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in a person younger than 50 years of age.

Research revealed that the heroin Carillo consumed contained a chemical known as MPTP, which is chemically close to MPPP, an ingredient in the potent pain reliever Demerol. MPTP caused the brain of the affected heroin users to act similarly to the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.

The substantia nigra is an area that plays a critical role in dopamine production and functionality, and thereby coordination. The symptoms that people with Parkinson’s disease experience, as well as the symptoms that the affected heroin users faced, typically occur when a person loses 80 percent or more of the neurons in the substantia nigra. In short, MPTP radically destroyed the neurons in this area of the brain in the individuals who had consumed the heroin batch at issue.

Methamphetamine and Amphetamine Abuse and Parkinson’s Disease

man addicted to methamphetamine and amphetamine use is at increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that methamphetamine and amphetamine abuse can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

A main insight from this research is that abuse of these types of drugs damages dopamine neurons in the brain. Parkinson’s disease is a dopamine-related disorder, and individuals who misuse drugs and damage their dopamine neurons may develop symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine damage results in motor impairment, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

One research study found a near 300 percent increase in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in people who have abused methamphetamine or amphetamine. In 2020, an estimated 2.5 millions Americans aged 12 and over were currently using this illicit drug.

A review of the neurological impact of drug abuse and separately, of Parkinson’s disease, opens a window into the very nuanced and delicate workings of brain complexes, like the substantia nigra, as well as critical neurotransmitters, like dopamine. Interestingly, this discussion illuminates how there are different pathways to similar outcomes; a person who never used drugs and develops Parkinson’s disease may experience similar symptoms as a person who has used certain illicit drugs.

If there is one main lesson to be learned from looking at the parallels between substance use disorders and Parkinson’s disease, it is that drug misuse exposes individuals to a host of unexpected and severe consequences.

Treating Substance Abuse and Parkinson’s Disease

Substance use disorder and Parkinson’s disease can have a devastating impact on a person’s life. Addiction is a chronic — but treatable — condition that involves a complex interplay between the environment, genetics, and life experiences. Receiving treatment from qualified professional addiction specialists, in conjunction with care from your healthcare provider, can improve your quality of life.

When you decide it’s time to get help, you may wonder what to expect in inpatient drug and alcohol rehab. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction and Parkinson’s disease treatment. In general, a treatment plan will be developed that uses a combination of evidence-based therapies and medication.

Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment

Many individuals with Parkinson’s disease often struggle depression and anxiety. Therapy is an effective component of a holistic approach to care that addresses not just the substance use disorder, but any underlying mental health disorders that may be co-occurring with addiction.

Therapies used in addiction treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
  • Motivational interviewing.
  • Family therapy.
  • Group therapy.
  • Alternative therapies (e.g., mindfulness and meditation).

Medication Used in Addiction Treatment

When you go to treatment for substance use other co-occurring disorders, our expert team of specialists will develop a customized care plan that may include the use of medications. These FDA-approved medications are used to help relieve physical symptoms associated with withdrawal, manage cravings, and ease the transition from active use to recovery.

Medications used in addiction treatment include:

  • Acamprosate.
  • Disulfiram.
  • Naltrexone.
  • Buprenorphine.
  • Methadone.

How to Pay for Treatment

To find out more information about paying for rehab, contact Laguna Treatment Hospital’s knowledgeable and compassion admission navigators at . They can answer your questions about rehab payment options, different levels of substance abuse treatment, get you information about using insurance to pay for rehab, and get you started on the rehab admissions process.

You can also find out if your insurance will cover some or all of treatment by filling out our

Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Orange County, CA

Living with addiction and a co-occurring disorder can take a heavy toll on your life. If you or a loved one are struggling, we can help. The team at our Orange County rehab have decades of experience helping individuals find healing from substance use and co-occurring disorders.

Contact us today to find out more about inpatient drug and alcohol rehab, and to begin your journey toward recovery.

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