Health Conditions Caused by Drug and Alcohol Use

We all know that abusing alcohol and other drugs is bad for us. What some people don’t realize is how many significant health conditions are caused by substance abuse. It is not enough that our addictions take over our lives and destroy our careers, friendships, families and more. They can also cause serious and permanent damage to our physical health or even death.

The long list of health conditions that stem from substance abuse begins with serious health problems even in adolescence, all the way up through health conditions that affect people late in life who have used or abused substances for many, many years. Some of the most common physical and mental health problems associated with substance abuse, according to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, are:

Physical Conditions

• Accidental Injury or Death
• Physical/Sexual Violence
• Sexually Transmitted Diseases
• Poisoning/Overdose
• Heart disease/Hypertension/Stroke
• Liver Damage/Disease/Cirrhosis
• Diabetes

It is well known that there are a significant amount of accidents and even fatalities related to driving under the influence of alcohol each year. Lesser known are the other types of accidents, such as at work or home that occur due to alcohol or other drug use. Additionally, there is a significantly larger number of incidents of physical or sexual violence when one or more parties involved have used alcohol or another substance.

Instances of Sexually Transmitted Diseases are higher with those who use or abuse substances due to the increased sexual risk-taking involved when under the influence of one or more substances. This includes cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C. Another big risk factor is using drugs like heroin, where people share needles, or crack cocaine users, whose users often share pipes with people who have mouth sores and could contract blood-borne diseases.

We have all heard the tragic stories of drug or alcohol poisoning or overdose. But what recent studies are showing us is that a very significant number of visits to the Emergency Room for drug-related issues are involving people who misuse prescription drugs, particularly opioids. In fact, prescription drug misuse often accounts for more emergency visits than alcohol now.

The risk of heart disease, hypertension, or stroke seems like something that would only be problematic in older patients, but actually, cardiovascular health is impacted very quickly. Particularly with drugs like cocaine, which immediately impacts blood pressure, the risk for heart attacks is significant. Alcohol, stimulants, heroin, and methamphetamine have all been linked with heart disease and cardiovascular issues, even in younger patients.

Drugs and alcohol can also impact a person’s insulin levels and cause or exacerbate existing diabetes. Diabetes causes many major health issues, including nerve and organ damage and problems in the eyes, including vision loss. Substance use makes these issues much worse in people who are already diabetic and can be the cause of the onset of diabetes, leading to these risks.

Mental Health Conditions

• Suicidal Ideation/Attempts
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Bipolar Disorder
• Panic Disorder
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Generalized Anxiety Disorder
• Social and Specific Phobias
• Oppositional Defiant Disorder
• Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
• Conduct Disorder
• Insomnia
• Dementia

In addition to many of the physical factors which have fatal risks, there are plenty of risks of specific mental health conditions, too. The most obvious risk would be active suicidal ideation or thinking suicidal thoughts, as well as those who actually attempt or complete suicide. Because of the chemical effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain, people who use substances are at a significantly higher risk for suicide and also depression. Depression is more common with women than men who use drugs or alcohol, but it is very considerable within this entire community.

There is also a much higher incidence of bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social and specific phobias amongst those who abuse substances. While it is recognized that some may be people who already displayed symptoms of these various disorders and used substances to self-medicate, there is plenty of data to indicate that substance abuse in and of itself can bring these conditions on. All of them are chronic and debilitating and even life-threatening. Additionally, the use of substances when one has a mood or anxiety disorder can make the disorder much worse and more difficult to treat.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also very prevalent amongst those with addictions. Some experience traumatic events that lead to substance abuse to self-medicate, others have traumatic events due to the situations they find themselves in as they use substances. PTSD is from three to six times more common amongst those who abuse substances than the general population.

Adolescents who use substances often develop Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD,) Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD,) and conduct disorder. These conditions are usually indicated by behavioral issues but are very real medical conditions that make life, particularly learning, very difficult. At the opposite end of the spectrum, elderly people who have used substances for a long time can develop insomnia and are also at a much higher risk of dementia.

Enlight is very aware of both physical and mental health risks that come with substance abuse. Put your trust in our care to help you start your life anew. Call us today at (805) 719-7954 to find the mental and physical help you need along with the caring support you deserve as you begin restoring your wellbeing.

The Sleep Factor

Sleep deprivation is one of nature’s cruelest tricks. Ask an insomniac, a parent of a newborn, or someone with an addiction. It is so much more than that awful feeling of being exhausted yet not able to sleep. It is more than just waking up tired, or even sleeping through an alarm because we didn’t get enough sleep. A lack of sleep leaves us at risk for a number of physical health issues, but also mental health issues. In fact, a lack of sleep is one of the reasons some people begin using substances in the first place. A lack of sleep can also interfere with our recovery, so it is something that truly requires our attention.

Physical Health Risks

So many people have trouble sleeping. Sometimes it is temporary and related to stressors in our lives. Most people go through periods of time with positive or negative stressors which impair their ability to sleep. When it goes beyond a few nights or even up to two weeks, then it becomes more problematic. There are obvious immediate impacts such as forgetfulness or fuzzy thinking. Or there are very serious risks such as having an accident at work or on the road, which can even be fatal.

Losing sleep can lower our immune system and make us more susceptible to things like the common cold. But it can also make us more susceptible to long term and serious issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. People with poor sleep amounts are even at higher risk of developing dementia. Sleep loss impacts our bodies now and throughout our lives.

Mental Health Risks

Everyone knows that a lack of sleep can make us irritable. But sleep loss can also lead to anxiety and depression, or even issues as serious as hallucinations or paranoid thoughts. Those are actually vicious cycles because depression and anxiety can also cause sleep deprivation, if not changes in our general sleep habits. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of poor mental health.

Insomnia is a disorder in and of itself, characterized by difficulty falling asleep at night, paired with drowsiness during the day. There are also mood disorders such as bipolar disorder that greatly impact sleep. For example, when someone is manic or even hypomanic, they sleep very little and often feel great. But then the depression hits and they sleep excessively. Suffering from insomnia can cause mental health issues, but mental health issues can cause sleep problems. It can feel like an unwinnable battle.

Addiction via Sleep Deprivation

Whether it be stress, insomnia, depression, or whatever, when there is a long-term lack of sleep, some of us turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to regulate sleep. Alcohol is well-known for helping us to relax or even induce sleep. It does not always work as intended, though, and then we are even more tired the following day when we need to be awake and alert.

Daytime sleepiness leads to using stimulants to stay awake. However, without a doctor’s care, our self-medication ends up keeping us up at night. And another type of vicious cycle is born, using alcohol or sedatives every night and stimulants every day. Before we know it, we are addicted to one or more substances. And the worst of it is that often, we are still not getting enough sleep.

Still worse, addiction itself can cause sleep loss. It interrupts our normal brain function which interrupts our sleep patterns. Even if sleep wasn’t a problem before, many drugs can interfere with sleep. In addition to all of the other negative side effects and behavioral problems associated with addiction, now we are anywhere from cranky to depressed to having paranoid thoughts. Sleep loss itself is powerful, but together along with addiction, they can incapacitate us.

Sleep Issues in Recovery

Recovery is a process, and as part of that process, we sometimes experience sleep loss. Our brains have been dependent on chemical substances long enough to create an addiction. In recovery, we are cleansing not only our bodies but also our brains of those substances. This causes actual physical changes in our brain, and as a part of this process, sometimes sleep is impaired.

There is also an emotional roller coaster that happens in recovery that can send our moods up and down, sometimes both within a very short period of time. Depression is a common side effect of recovery, too, because of all of the changes we are experiencing. Perhaps one of the most dangerous effects of sleep loss during recovery is the high risk of relapse associated with a lack of sleep.

If we have been active in our addictions, we could be experiencing so many symptoms and side effects. But one of the most miserable side effects is a lack of sleep. We are exhausted and just tired of being tired. Tired of going up and going down, tired of trying to self-medicate. It is time for us to head toward health and a good night’s sleep. Don’t spend another night anxiously counting sheep, call Enlight today at (805) 719-7954 to speak to one of our admissions experts.