It has become common knowledge that addiction runs rampant among the mentally ill population, with some 50 percent of those with severe mental illness being substance abusers, but what about those with physical ailments? Are illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, organic and merely a matter of happenstance or genetic lottery, or do they stem from addiction in some way? The answer may surprise you.
From one patient to the next, individual circumstances vary. One person may suffer from lung cancer and be a long-time marijuana and cigarette smoker. However, there are plenty of smokers who never get lung cancer, too, as well as many people who have this form of cancer and have never smoked anything. Pinpointing the direct cause of an illness can be trickier than it seems.
Mostly known to affect alcohol abusers, cirrhosis of the liver is a common form of alcoholic liver disease, of which there are several types. Approximately 17 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. Around 10 to 15 percent of alcoholics end up with cirrhosis. Wine is traditionally known to be of less risk at influencing cirrhosis than beer or hard liquor. That being said, how much someone drinks and how often is a far greater contributing cause.
Cirrhosis sufferers who quit drinking have a 90 percent five-year survival rate, compared to only 70 percent among those who continue to drink alcohol. Even more troubling is that 70 percent of all Americans with cancer of the liver had cirrhosis first.
Approximately 20 percent of heavy drinkers and alcohol dependents develop fatty liver disease. This condition is reversible if alcohol abuse is ceased early enough, but in lieu of such measures it often leads to death.
Alcoholic hepatitis is also a major life risk, with half of all severe cases ending in death. That being said, approximately 40 percent of people diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis will end up developing cirrhosis, too, if they fail to stop drinking heavily.
A lot of substance abusers end up with some form of cancer, but that can be said for others in the general public, too. More importantly, new cases of lung cancer affected around 225,000 people in 2012, and a reported 80 to 90 percent of them were previous or current smokers.
While many illnesses and diseases can stem from substance abuse, some people are led to drugs and alcohol by an illness. This situation is commonly seen in cancer patients, many of which grow dependent on marijuana or opioid painkillers during treatment when trying to manage pain from treatment like chemotherapy. Opioid screenings in cancer patients in one study turned up abnormal results in 45.65 percent of tested patients. Sometimes it’s merely the depression and stress of coping with a potentially terminal illness that leads to drug abuse, too.
A study on the effects of effects of alcohol and drugs on women found that “women between ages 30 and 64 who consumed 15–21 units of alcohol per week had an increased risk of hypertension compared with those who drank 14 or fewer units; those who drank 1–7 units per week had an overall decrease in 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who drank more.”
Infectious diseases are a common ailment among substance abusers. Chronic hepatitis C affects 3.9 million American people. Only around 15 to 25 percent of HCV-infected parties clear the infection on their own. Over a period of three decades living with HCV, 13 to 46 percent of men and 1 to 29 percent of women developed cirrhosis, too. Individuals with HCV have a 16 percent chance of developing cirrhosis after 20 years, whereas those with both HCV and HIV have a 21 percent chance. Both viruses are prominent in the substance abuse community among injection drug users.
In one study, 64.7 percent of substance abusers who had been injecting drugs for no more than a year already had hepatitis C, and 76.5 percent of those injecting for less than six years did. In 2010, eight percent of all new HIV infections were contracted through injection drug use. Around one-third of all HIV/AIDS cases are linked to injection drug use.
Individuals with mental health disorders are also more likely to have physical health problems, too. Moreover, approximately 53 percent of all drug addicts and 37 percent of alcoholics also have a mental health disorder. This can make for a complex case of health ailments in the substance-abusing, mentally ill person.Many individuals with mental health issues live a shortened lifespan, as well. Around 60 percent of excess mortality cases among the severely mentally ill population are due to physical illnesses. Those with severe mental health disorders — such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — live
approximately 13 to 30 years fewer than the general population.Likewise, many addicts end up on the streets after periods of prolonged drug or alcohol abuse, as do the mentally ill. This is an important link to their health, because homeless persons who are suffering from mental health disorders have a 24.5 percent risk of cardiac arrest, stroke, or sudden cardiac death past the age of 30. Substance-induced illnesses are a whole other realm of sickness that are directly caused by substance abuse and generally resolve when drug or alcohol use is stopped.
Substance abuse alone shortens life expectancy by alarming rates, such as:
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