Substance abuse and addiction are clearly associated with a number of negative health effects that can lead to a lifetime of illness or even death. While drug and alcohol rehab can help to reverse some of these negative effects and improve an individual’s overall health and well-being over time, substance abuse causes immense damage to the body’s vital organs.
There are a wide variety of drugs abused and each of those substances will have varying effects on the body. Although these drugs will also affect each individual differently, here are eight of the most common chronic illnesses that have been linked to substance abuse and addiction.
1. Heart Disease
Most substances, including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, steroids, and tobacco (among many others) can cause irreversible damage to the cardiovascular system.1 The veins, arteries, and heart are all affected by the use of drugs and alcohol and substance abuse often causes abnormal heart rate, collapsed veins, and infection of the vessels and heart valves. Cardiovascular disease and heart attack may also cause death if the excessive use of addictive substances is not properly addressed within a drug and alcohol rehab setting.
2. Lung Disease
Commonly abused drugs like tobacco, marijuana, inhalants, cocaine, prescription opiates, and ketamine are just a few of the substances that can cause respiratory problems when smoked. Individuals who abuse these substances over a long period of time may develop issues within the respiratory system, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, and lung cancer.2
3. Mental Disorders
Mental illness and substance abuse often occur simultaneously. In many instances, individuals who suffer from addiction also have mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or personality disorders.3 While mental disorders can be both a cause and an effect of drug use, both issues must be treated separately during drug rehab to adequately address all aspects of the substance abuse and/or addiction.
4. HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C
Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C are often caused by shared or contaminated needles, a weakened immune system, or unprotected sexual activity. These diseases are commonly linked to the abuse of heroin, cocaine, steroids, methamphetamine, and prescription opioids.4 Getting the proper substance abuse treatment at a rehab center can help prevent the spread of these infectious diseases.
It’s a well-known fact that tobacco smoke causes cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, larynx, stomach, bladder, pancreas, kidney, and cervix5, but several other addictive substances have also been linked to cancer as well. Consistent use of substances such as alcohol, steroids, and synthetic drugs have also been linked to cancers of several major bodily organs, including the pancreas, stomach, breasts, and liver.6,7,8
Abuse of amphetamines such as Adderall can cause skin diseases such as dermatosis. Injecting illicit drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin can also cause skin and soft tissue infections.9 This typically happens when a person uses non-sterile needles, injects harmful oral bacteria into the body after cleaning needles with saliva, or injects a drug directly beneath the skin instead of into a vein (also known as skin popping).
Long-term use of any addictive substance such as alcohol or illicit drugs may result in addiction, which is defined as a chronic illness.10 While there are many factors that play a role in the development of addiction, consistent use of drugs and alcohol modifies the way the brain’s neurons send, receive, and process information. As a result, overcoming addiction is more than just an issue of willpower. Addiction is a disease that must be treated with evidence-based clinical therapies and medical practices within a supportive environment such as a rehab center.
Substance abuse has been linked to various other chronic illnesses in addition to those listed above, but these are just a few of the most common illnesses faced by those who suffer from severe substance abuse disorders and addiction.