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Top 10 Drugs that Cause Kidney Damage

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Not only are drugs dangerous in other ways, but many of them may cause kidney damage as well. Drugs that can cause kidney damage include both addictive and non-addictive drugs; prescription medications as well as illegal substances.

Table of Contents

If you are struggling with substance abuse, our Utah rehab center can help you kick addiction and limit the damage to your kidneys and other vital organs.

Addictive Drugs that Cause Kidney Damage

In addition to causing addiction and a slew of other problems, drugs are harmful to your kidneys, and some can even lead to life-threatening kidney issues. The most common addictive, illegal drugs can cause kidney damage are:


Cocaine addiction and abuse can affect multiple organs in your body, including the kidneys. According to a 2014 study, cocaine can cause acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.

This study cites that “in human and rat kidneys, cocaine has been associated with glomerular, tubular, vascular and interstitial injury. It is not uncommon to diagnose cocaine-related acute kidney injury (AKI), malignant hypertension and chronic kidney disease (CKD).”

Another study examined the effects of cocaine on kidney health in 129 deceased illicit drug abusers and found that exposure to cocaine was associated with higher risks of kidney disease, especially hypertensive-ischemic nephropathy.

If you or a loved one needs help leaving cocaine addiction behind, contact our cocaine rehab center for empathetic, professional help.


Heroin use can harm your kidneys, according to a human study. This study performed kidney biopsies on 21 heroin addicts. Results show that drug-induced nephrotoxicity associated with heroin use “was highly correlated with both sclerosing glomerulonephritis and end stage renal disease (ESRD).”

An animal study done on rats confirmed these findings. The differences in urine volume, water intake, food intake, and creatine and proteins found in the urine suggest that heroin can have acute, negative effects on the kidneys.

In addition to increasing the risk of drug-induced kidney disease, heroin use negatively affects all organs in the body and can lead to overdose and even death. If you need help quitting your addiction, contact our heroin detox center today.


Clinical reports indicate that methamphetamine abuse can have damaging effects on many organs, including the liver, blood, and kidneys.

A 2019 study examined the effects of meth on the liver and kidneys by looking at different types of kidney and liver biochemical factors. While the negative effects on the kidneys were less extensive than those on the liver, they are present and more pronounced when meth is taken in higher doses.

Do you need help quitting meth? Contact our meth rehab center and start your journey to sobriety today.


MDMA, also known as ecstasy, induces oxidative stress and organ damage and increases the risk for kidney disease, according to recent research.

Another study examined the effects of MDMA on a type of kidney disease called acute kidney injury, also known as acute renal failure. This condition causes a sudden and rapid loss of kidney function and can be deadly without medical intervention.

Do you need help quitting MDMA? The skilled professionals at the Ardu drug addiction recovery center are here to help you every step of the way.


Ketamine abuse appears to cause nephrotoxicity, kidney damage, and liver damage. An animal study examined the effects of ketamine on mice after 6, 16, and 28 days of use.

Results show that “hydropic degenerations of the kidney tubules were observed as early as 6 weeks of treatment and long-term ketamine administration (28 weeks) led to atresia of glomeruli in the kidney.”

These effects were even more severe in mice that were given ketamine and alcohol, suggesting that a combination of these two substances may be particularly detrimental to kidney health.

Do you need help quitting ketamine? Contact Ardu Recovery Center today and turn over a new leaf with us.


According to the National Kidney Foundation, heavy drinking can damage kidney tissue significantly, and doubles the riskofr kidney disease.

A 2013 study cites that “alcoholism remains a risk factor for post-infectious glomerulonephritis, acute kidney injury, and kidney graft failure, and the only positive aspect was that alcohol consumption was associated with less renal cell carcinoma.”

Another study, published in 2019, looked at the risk of chronic kidney damage associated with drinking alcohol. This study concluded that, while moderate alcohol consumption does not have a negative effect on the kidneys, “severe alcohol drinking (≥60 g/d) insignificantly increased 7% risk of chronic kidney damage.”

Learn more about this topic in our blog post on the effects of alcohol on the kidneys and contact our alcohol detox and alcohol rehab centers if you need help quitting your addiction.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

While there is no correlation between cannabis consumption and kidney issues, synthetic cannabinoids appear to increase the risk of kidney issues.

According to a 2021 study, “adverse effects associated with synthetic CBs include seizures, cardiovascular effects, kidney injury, respiratory depression, hyperemesis syndrome, gastrointestinal problems, cerebral ischemia, and multiple organ failure.”

Another study, published in 2014 examined the association between smoking synthetic cannabinoids and acute kidney injury. Results suggest a significant connection between the two and indicate that “this association between synthetic cannabinoid exposure and acute kidney injury reinforces the need for vigilance to detect new toxicologic syndromes associated with emerging drugs of abuse.”

Do you want to stop synthetic cannabinoid use? Contact our marijuana rehab center and start your journey to sobriety today.

Non-Addictive Drugs that Can Cause Kidney Damage

Non-addictive drugs, such as over-the-counter medications used to treat pain and anabolic steroids, can cause harm to the kidneys. Here are the most common non-addictive drugs that cause kidney damage.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Common over-the-counter medications that can cause damage to your kidneys include weight loss  medications that contain epinephrine, decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

NSAIDs are the most common medications that can cause kidney issues and include inflammation and pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. A 2021 study review examined kidney damage caused by these antiinflammatory drugs.

This study concluded that “medical literature associates the usage of NSAIDs with acute kidney injury (AKI), tubulointerstitial nephritis (TIN), as well as nephrotic syndrome and chronic kidney disease (CKD).”

Prescription Drugs

Certain prescription medications can damage your kidneys and cause kidney issues with long-term use, including those used to treat conditions like psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and mood disorders.

If you are taking any prescription medication, it is crucial to follow the recommended dosage and consult with your healthcare provider to monitor your kidney health and identify any potential risks or complications.

Your doctor or pharmacist can provide guidance on how to minimize the potential harm to your kidneys while benefiting from the necessary treatment.


Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), commonly used to treat acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and interstitial nephritis, can cause kidney issues, according to research.

A 2019 study review examined the effects of PPI use on the kidneys and concluded that “PPI use is associated with increased risk for hypomagnesemia, AKI, AIN, incident CKD, CKD progression, kidney failure, all-cause mortality, and death due to kidney disease.“

To prevent this damage, avoid or adjust PPI use, especially if you have been using this medication for a long time. If you are prescribed PPIs for acid reflux or GERD, it is important to discuss the duration and dosage with your health care team to ensure they are appropriately prescribed for your specific condition. 

Anabolic Steroids

The use of anabolic steroids, often for performance-enhancing purposes, can have detrimental effects on the kidneys. Anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male hormone testosterone and can lead to various kidney-related complications.

According to a recent study, these substances can increase blood pressure, reducing blood flow to the kidneys, which can contribute to the development of kidney damage or failure. Additionally, the use of these substances can lead to electrolyte imbalances, which can cause kidney dysfunction.

What Are the 3 Early Warning Signs of Kidney Disease?

Recognizing the early signs of kidney disease and quickly acting on them is integral to timely intervention and effective management of the condition. Early detection and proactive measures play a crucial role in preserving kidney health and preventing further complications. Three warning signs of kidney disease include:

Changes in Urination

Pay attention to any noticeable changes in your urination patterns, such as increased frequency, foamy urine, blood in urine, or difficulty urinating. These can be indications of decreased kidney function and should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Fatigue and Weakness

Persistent feelings of fatigue and weakness that are not explained by other factors can be a warning sign of kidney disease. The kidneys play a vital role in filtering waste and producing essential hormones, so when their function is compromised, it can lead to generalized fatigue and weakness.


Kidney disease can cause fluid retention, leading to swelling in different parts of the body, particularly in the legs, ankles, feet, and face. If you notice unexplained swelling, it may be a sign of reduced kidney function and should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Do You Need Help Leaving Drugs Behind?

Are you struggling with drug abuse and concerned about the potential kidney issues associated with certain drugs? At our drug rehab facility, a team of skilled and empathetic professionals is waiting to provide you with the support and guidance you need to leave drugs behind and embark on a journey of recovery.

We understand that drug abuse can have devastating consequences on your physical and mental health. Many drugs, including certain substances known to cause kidney issues, can take a toll on your overall well-being. Our dedicated team is here to help you break free from the cycle of drug abuse and prioritize your long-term health.

Through our comprehensive treatment approach, we offer a range of evidence-based therapies and personalized strategies to address your unique needs. Our team of addiction specialists will work closely with you to develop a tailored treatment plan that encompasses various treatment methods and approaches.

Our drug rehab programs offer a supportive and structured environment where you can explore the underlying factors contributing to your drug abuse and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Our individual therapy sessions provide a safe space for self-reflection and healing, allowing you to address the root causes of addiction through psychotherapy. Additionally, group therapy and support groups offer a sense of community, fostering connections with peers who understand your struggles.

In addition to traditional therapies, we also incorporate holistic treatment approaches into our treatment programs. These may include activities such as yoga therapy, meditation, art therapy, and exercise therapy, which can promote physical and emotional well-being while providing alternative outlets for stress management and self-expression.

Our commitment to your recovery extends beyond the initial treatment phase. We provide comprehensive aftercare planning to ensure a smooth transition back into everyday life. This may involve ongoing therapy, relapse prevention strategies, and support networks such as 12-step programs or other community resources.

If you’re ready to break free from drug abuse and prioritize your overall health, our team is here to support you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about our drug and alcohol detox and rehab programs and take the first step towards a brighter, healthier future.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

FAQ on Drugs that Can Cause Kidney Damage

What medications help kidney function?

Medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are commonly prescribed to help improve kidney function and manage conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

What blood pressure medications cause kidney failure?

While blood pressure medications play an important role in managing hypertension, some medications, such as angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), have been associated with rare cases of kidney failure. However, the benefits of these medications in controlling blood pressure and protecting kidney function generally outweigh the potential risks.

Is there a relation between antidepressants and kidney problems?

Antidepressants and other mood stabilizers themselves do not typically cause kidney problems. However, some studies suggest a potential association between the long-term use of certain antidepressants and an increased risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

For example, a 2019 study found that paroxetine use can have adverse effects on distal and proximal tubule volume, while amitriptyline generally doesn’t.

What medications cause high creatinine levels?

Contrast-induced nephropathy, a potential complication of imaging tests using contrast dye, can cause temporary kidney damage and result in high creatinine levels. Imaging tests such as CT scans may involve the use of contrast dye, and individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions or risk factors should be closely monitored. It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of such procedures with your healthcare provider.

Is lisinopril kidney damage reversible?

The extent of kidney damage caused by lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor used to treat hypertension and heart failure, can vary. In some cases, if kidney damage is detected early and the underlying cause is addressed, there can be a chance of completely reversing the damage. However, the outcome depends on multiple factors, including the person’s overall health and the severity of kidney damage.

Do kidney stones damage kidneys the most?

While kidney stones can cause significant discomfort and complications, they are not typically the primary cause of long-term kidney damage. Conditions such as uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, drug abuse, and chronic kidney disease (CKD) are among the leading factors that can cause progressive kidney damage over time.

What foods help repair kidneys?

Certain foods can support kidney health and provide nutrients that aid in repair and maintenance. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and bell peppers, can help reduce inflammation and promote kidney function. Additionally, foods low in sodium and phosphorus, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, are generally recommended for individuals with kidney issues.

What drugs should be avoided to prevent further kidney damage?

People with kidney disease should be cautious with certain medications, and even herbal supplements, that can further damage the kidneys. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can potentially harm the kidneys, especially when used long-term or in high doses. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication, especially if you have existing kidney issues.

Do kidneys recover from damage?

The recovery of kidneys from damage depends on multiple factors, including the cause and severity of the damage, overall health, and timely intervention.

While some kidney damage can be reversible, such as acute kidney injury caused by certain medications or infections, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is often irreversible.

Stop using drugs and pain medications that can harm the kidneys, seek medical advice and follow recommended treatments to prevent further damage and manage kidney health effectively.


Further Reading

Can Alcohol Affect Birth Control?

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Learn About the Basics of Alcoholics Anonymous

How to Choose Between Individual and Group Therapy

All You Need to Know About Rehab Centers for Women

Everything  You Need to Know About Rehab Centers for Men


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This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you are experiencing kidney issues, talk to your doctor.