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What Is the Connection Between Substance Use Disorder and Chronic Illness? 

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Long-term substance use disorder can cause a range of complications, including mental problems in addition to physical harm.  Some of the health problems can be permanent, regardless of whether the person stops their drug use. 

While some people are somewhat aware of the potential dangers of substance abuse, they often fail to make the connection between chronic illness and addiction.  In many cases, their lack of knowledge results in life-altering damage to their health.

Health Risks of Long-Term Substance Use Disorder

Each drug of abuse has its own effects on a person’s body.  And, everyone reacts differently to a drug’s effects.  Even so, some common chronic illnesses are linked to long-term substance use that many people may not expect.

Below are six of the most significant health risks associated with prolonged substance use.

#1.  Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is a result of the effects of drugs on the veins, arteries, and cardiovascular system.  Several drugs can cause an abnormal heart rate, infection, and collapsed veins.  Other effects include high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.  

Some of the most frequently misused or abused drugs associated with heart disease are:

  • Tobacco
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Steroids
  • Amphetamines
  • Club Drugs
  • Prescription medications

Combining one of the above drugs with other substances such as alcohol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

#2.  Respiratory Disease

Illicit drugs that are smoked can increase the risk of lung disease and respiratory problems.  This issue is especially problematic for people with preexisting conditions such as asthma.  Long-term drug use that involves inhaling the substance can cause chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD.  

The drugs most frequently smoked include:

  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Crack cocaine
  • Inhalants
  • Opiates
  • Ketamine

Inhaling these drugs leads to extensive airway damage and alterations that increase the potential for respiratory disease.

#3.  Cancer

Consistent use of addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, steroids, or synthetic drugs has been linked to cancer of major organs including the stomach, pancreas, liver,  throat, mouth, lungs, larynx, bladder, kidney, cervix, and breasts.  

#4.  Mental Disorders

In many cases, substance use disorder and mental illness occur simultaneously.  Studies show that most people who suffer from substance use also have a mental illness.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the mental disorder is the cause or an effect of substance use.  

The most commonly reported mental illnesses that accompany substance use are depression, personality disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia,  PTSD, or ADHD.

#5.  HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C

The risks of contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or C are high among people who inject drugs such as heroin, meth, cocaine, opioids, or steroids.  The diseases are the result of sharing needles or using contaminated needles.  Long-term substance use also contributes to a weakened immune system which leaves a person more likely to contract an infectious disease.  Furthermore, many substance users engage in unprotected sex with can increase the risk of infectious diseases including STDs, HIV, or hepatitis.

#6.  Stroke

Research shows that people who use meth, opiates, marijuana, or cocaine have a 35% to 86% higher risk of developing a condition known as AFib.  AFib (atrial fibrillation) causes complications such as irregular heartbeat and blood clots.  Due to stress on the circulatory system, these issues can increase stroke risk.

Addiction and Health Issues During Substance Use

Chronic illness and addiction are things many people don’t consider before they decide to experiment with recreational drug use.  While no one intends for their occasional drug use to become an addiction, it can happen to anyone.  

Some drugs are so powerful that a person can become addicted after a single use. For instance, many drugs today are covertly laced with other deadly substances.  In many cases, the person buys a street drug, completely unaware that it is adulterated with fentanyl or some other dangerous substance.  Unfortunately, overdose or death is the result of this type of situation.

If substance use continues, the health damage slowly worsens until life-threatening conditions develop.  At that point, the best solution is to seek professional addiction treatment that combines methodologies for addressing the mental, physical, and emotional aspects involved concurrently.

Prevent the Risk of Chronic Illness and Substance Use at Design for Change Recovery 

Design for Change Recovery provides a comprehensive treatment program that can help improve your health while also treating the emotional or mental aspects.  With our evidence-based methodologies, you will learn how nutrition and exercise contribute to recovery.  You will also participate in activities that help you gain the confidence, motivation, and skills to maintain a drug-free lifestyle.

Some of the therapies you will be involved with are cognitive-behavioral therapy, holistic therapy, group and individual counseling, bio-sound therapy, music and art activities, and more.  Our carefully designed treatment approach ensures that all aspects of substance abuse are addressed.

If you would like to learn more about our program options, reach out to our Lancaster, CA facility today.  One of our representatives will be available to help you design a recovery plan tailored to your needs. 


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What is the Connection Between Substance Use Disorder and Chronic Illness?