Physical Health is Important to Lasting Recovery
There is no doubt that substance use disorder has a dramatic impact on health. Physical, mental and emotional well-being always suffer when an individual becomes dangerously dependent on harmful substances. Drugs and alcohol have a variety of adverse effects on the body, ranging from painful withdrawal symptoms to lasting impairment of vital organs. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that patients recovering from addiction often suffer from chronic health conditions.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggests that more than one-third of people recovering from addiction continue to suffer from a physical disease.
Studying Chronic Health Conditions in Addiction Recovery
Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute are the first to examine the national prevalence of medical conditions typically created or magnified by chronic and excessive use of drugs or alcohol. The data in the study comes from a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 American adults. Each of these individuals described themselves as recovering from a range of substance issues, including:
Researchers then looked for the presence of diseases known to be exacerbated by drugs and alcohol, such as:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Hepatitis C
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
What they found was that out of all the adults recovering from substance abuse issues, 37% of them had been diagnosed with one or more of these nine conditions.
Additionally, researchers conclude that significant reductions in the participants’ quality of life connect to these conditions. Not to mention, researchers note that each of these health problems is known to reduce life expectancy.
Trends Relating to Different Drugs
When looking at the details of the data, there are a few trends that stand out. For instance, when compared to the general population, individuals in recovery have much higher levels of:
- Hepatitis C
- Heart disease
And in many cases, certain diseases more often correlate with certain substances. For example:
Rates of this condition were significantly higher for those recovering from opioids or stimulants than those recovering from alcohol.
HIV/AIDS and STIs
Lifetime prevalence of these health conditions was significantly higher in the group of people recovering from stimulant abuse than in the alcohol group.
The lowest rates of this condition were actually found in individuals recovering from opioid addiction.
This health problem was discovered to be least common for those reporting cannabis as their primary substance issue
Multiple Chronic Conditions
The odds of experiencing two or more chronic physical diseases were increased by 4%- 7% due to certain factors, such as:
- Each additional substance used 10 times or more
- Older age at onset of diseases
- Resolving alcohol or drug problems later in life
Reduced Rates of Disease
Researchers also note a few elements that appear to coincide with reduced rates of physical diseases. In general, such factors include being:
There were also social stability and economic factors linked to lower rates of physical disease for those recovering from substance abuse, including:
- Having a household income greater than $50,000
- Higher education
- Being Employed
- Married or living with a partner
Some of these may be a bit of a surprise, especially considering that women are typically considered more susceptible to serious health problems associated with substance abuse.
Highlighting the Importance of Health in Recovery
According to the researchers, this study is important to a larger conversation about the quality of life for those in recovery from addiction. The lead and corresponding author David Eddie, Ph.D., research scientist at the Recovery Research Institute is an MGH clinical psychologist and an instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. He states,
“We’ve known for a long time that chronic and heavy substance use can cause a multitude of diseases directly and indirectly – The extent to which these diseases and health conditions continue to persist for the millions of Americans who achieve recovery remains to be clarified, but this study highlights the fact that these negative impacts may continue to affect quality of life even when people achieve addiction recovery.”
Eddie believes it is important to appreciate that even those who overcome their issues with substance use disorder and drug dependence still face real physical diseases. In some cases, men and women who manage to finally make progress away from abusing drugs or alcohol still have to live the rest of their lives with other life-altering conditions. If the evidence points toward a better chance at young people and those with a shorter history of drug use being able to avoid chronic illness, then, of course, more effort should be put toward early intervention. Eddie adds,
“In addition, addiction treatment needs to be more seamlessly integrated with primary health care, and more research is needed to explore the complex relationships between alcohol and other drug use and physical disease.”
Moreover, this would further support the idea that we must address addiction as a public health issue. If we want to effectively address not only substance abuse but the long-term adverse effects of drugs and alcohol, we have to offer more comprehensive treatment options.