Co-Occurring Medical Conditions Caused by Substance Abuse
Substance abuse causes a wide range of both short- and long-term effects. One of the greatest risks is the lasting health conditions that develop as a result of substance abuse. Even legal substances like alcohol and nicotine can lead to serious health risks. Their prevalence in society makes them no less harmful than illicit substances like heroin or cocaine.
Substance abuse affects every aspect of your mind and body, causing harmful and lasting health effects when left untreated. Some of the conditions that drug and alcohol abuse causes include:
- Liver Damage
- Kidney Damage
- Heart Disease
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Lung Disease
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Mental Health Disorders
Annandale offers a robust onsite medical team who is involved in your care from the moment you arrive at our facility. Read on to learn more about various health conditions caused by substance abuse, and how our approach to treatment works for you.
Health Conditions Caused by Substance Abuse
Alcohol and drugs are harmful substances that cause extensive harm to the brain and body and multiple body systems are responsible for processing these substances. This means people who abuse drugs and alcohol not only risk their psychological well-being but the well-being of their entire body, too.2
Specific effects depend on a variety of factors, such as:
- Types of substances used
- Amount of substance used
- Frequency of abuse
- Length of abuse
- Method of use
- Pre-existing health conditions
Long-term substance abuse can lead to a range of lasting health conditions. The severity of some conditions may lessen with sobriety, treatment, and time, while others are permanent.
The liver’s primary function involves breaking down food into nutrients for the body. It is also responsible for detoxifying your body of substances like alcohol and drugs. Chronic substance use strains your liver and can lead to liver damage over time. Substances that cause liver damage include alcohol, heroin, and inhalants.3
Some examples of liver damage caused by substances include:
- Fatty liver: Enlargement of the liver which may cause mild discomfort. Almost all heavy drinkers develop fatty liver, but it is reversible if a person stops drinking early enough.4
- Alcoholic hepatitis: Swelling and inflammation of the liver, as well as the destruction of liver cells. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and abdominal pain.
- Cirrhosis: Scar tissue that builds up and replaces liver cells over time.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering substances and removing waste from the body. Kidney damage is one of the primary health conditions caused by substance abuse, especially after long-term use.5 Some of the drugs that can cause damage to the kidneys include:
- Synthetic cannabis
Kidney damage from substance abuse ranges from mild to severe and may result in renal failure that requires dialysis to treat.
Drugs ingested orally must be processed by the gastrointestinal system. This makes gastrointestinal problems some of the most common health conditions caused by substance abuse. Gastrointestinal problems range from mild to severe and can last both short- and long-term.
Alcohol abuse causes numerous harmful gastrointestinal problems including:15
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
- Reflux esophagitis
- Mallory-Weiss tears (GI bleeding caused by ruptures in the lower esophagus)
- Increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer
Drugs also cause gastrointestinal problems when ingested orally.
- Opiates like prescription painkillers or heroin can cause severe constipation and stomach cramping. Many substances cause nausea and vomiting.
- Cocaine and methamphetamine are associated with a condition called mesenteric arterial vasospasm which can cause ischemic colitis or even bowel necrosis.16
The heart is one of the most important organs in the body, responsible for sustaining life. Abusing substances of all kinds places incredible strain on the heart.6 Substances linked to greater risk for heart disease include:
- Prescription stimulants
Any substance that places strain on the heart is likely to be more problematic than helpful in the long run. In reality, heavy drinking can lead to numerous heart-related conditions, such as cardiomyopathy and coronary heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that includes a range of heart- and blood vessel-related conditions. Most substances affect the heart’s ability to carry out its natural functions, often through increasing or decreasing blood flow in the body.
- Long-term alcohol abuse is typically associated with a high risk of conditions like hypertension and arrhythmia.7
- Stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription amphetamines immediately impact blood pressure, placing people at risk of heart palpitations, heart attack, or cardiac arrest.
- Heroin and other opioids decrease heart rate which reduces cardiac output and can cause arrhythmias and noncardiac pulmonary edema.8
Some of the health conditions caused by substance abuse include a variety of respiratory problems. Different substances have different effects on the respiratory system, so specific conditions depend on the type or types of substances a person uses.
- Alcohol abuse is responsible for multiple types of respiratory problems, including lung infections (i.e. pneumonia) and acute respiratory distress syndrome9
- Central nervous system depressants (particularly opioids) cause slow, shallow, or irregular breathing.10
- Opioid overdose can cause slow breathing to the point of respiratory arrest. Oxygen deprivation caused by this slowed breathing over a long period may lead to damage to other organs.
- Smoking any type of substance can cause lung damage and leave the respiratory system more at risk of conditions like bronchitis and emphysema.11
Not many people realize that diabetes is another example of the health conditions caused by substance abuse.
- Alcohol and drug abuse increase the risk of developing diabetes, caused by the effects of substances on glucose homeostasis as well as the increase in cell damage.14
- Substance abuse can worsen diabetes in those who are already diabetic before using substances.
- Blood sugar fluctuations caused by insulin injections can increase drug cravings.
Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders are another common health condition caused by substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol directly affect brain chemistry and functioning which can alter the ways people feel, think, and act. Long-term use can lead to lasting changes that affect natural levels and the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and more.17
Substances have an extensive impact on overall psychological well-being which may result in the development of a mental health disorder. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are common among people who abuse drugs and alcohol.
Once symptoms develop, people then continue using substances to find relief from their effects. This creates an ever-worsening spiral that can only be helped by intervention and substance abuse treatment.
Effective Treatment for Co-Morbid Conditions in Pasadena, CA
Some health conditions caused by substance abuse can be relieved or reversed following the elimination of drugs and alcohol. Others have effects that last long past the final high. Ultimately, effective treatment for substance-related health conditions requires clinicians to take a case-by-case approach.
At Annandale Behavioral Health we are staffed with medical personnel at all times. This includes nursing staff and physicians who are double board-certified in both addiction and internal medicine. This allows our team to create highly individualized treatment programs for those who experience co-morbid conditions, meaning the presence of both a substance use disorder and a health condition.
You should always consult your primary care physician before seeking specific treatment if you’re experiencing any substance-related health conditions. They will work with the necessary parties to provide an informed approach to your care.
Find Freedom From Substance Abuse, the Annandale Difference
Annandale Behavioral Health is an evidence-based addiction treatment program that paves the way for individuals seeking sobriety. If you’ve struggled with your substance use, we’re here to help. Whether you’ve been to treatment before or this is your first time looking to stop, we have a program that is right for you.
Our private recovery clinic in Pasadena, CA integrates evidence-based addiction treatment with dual diagnosis therapies. We include long-standing, proven approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and Motivational Interviewing (MI). Find healing through a treatment plan tailored to you, using methods that best support your recovery.
Annandale offers a robust onsite medical team who is involved in your care from the moment you arrive at our facility. Our comprehensive continuum of care sets you up for success in sobriety, from medical detox through Annandale Post, our unique approach to recovery aftercare services.
Annandale Behavioral Health is here for you each step of the way, to learn more about our programs, please call for a confidential consultation today. Our admissions team is available to answer and ready to help.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). HealthConsequencesofDrug Misuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Liver Damage.
- Mayo Clinic Health System. (2021). What effect does alcohol have on your health – and your liver?.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). KidneyDamage.
- National Library of Medicine. (2014). Substance Use and Associated Health Conditions throughout the Lifespan.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2001). Alcohol’s Effects on the Risk for Coronary Heart Disease.
- National Library of Medicine. (2003). Cardiovascular manifestations of substance abuse: part 2.
- National Library of Medicine. (2008). Alcoholic Lung Disease.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). RespiratoryEffects.
- Mayo Clinic. (2020). COPD.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States.
- National Library of Medicine. (2018). The Effects of Substance Abuse on Blood Glucose Parameters in Patients with Diabetes.
- National Library of Medicine. (2017). Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.
- Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Impact of Drugs on Neurotransmission.