Health Damage From Addiction An Issue For Many In Sobriety

By Maggie Ethridge 04/24/19

A recent study examined the medical burdens that people in recovery face from alcohol or drug abuse.

sober man talking to doctor about health damage from addiction

For many recovering from addiction, the damage done to their health remains an issue well into sobriety. Massachusetts General Hospital's Recovery Research Institute in Boston carried out a study that examined the medical burden of people in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse.

Published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the paper included over 2,000 subjects in active recovery from the 2017 National Recovery Survey.

Around 37% of this sample had received a diagnosis of one or more of these medical issues: liver disease, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, tuberculosis, and diabetes, cancer and hepatitis C.

David Eddie, PhD, a research scientist and lead author of the published study, is quoted in Medical News Today: "The prodigious psychological, social, and interpersonal impact of excessive and chronic alcohol and other drug use is well-characterized. Less well-appreciated is the physical disease burden, especially among those who have successfully resolved a significant substance use problem."

The conclusion of the study was that COPD, heart disease and diabetes all were more prevalent in the recovery sample group than in the general population.

The type of substance most associated with the respondent correlated with the burden of the disease.

Some examples listed in Medical News Today include: hepatitis C correlated to the opioid and stimulant groups (versus the alcohol group); HIV and sexually transmitted infections correlated to the stimulant group than the alcohol group; heart disease appeared the least in the opioid group; diabetes was least seen in the marijuana group, and there was no notable difference found in the prevalence of tuberculosis and COPD.

Chronic inflammation may be an underlying association between drug or alcohol abuse and physical disease. Alcohol is known to be problematic; the World Journal of Gastroenterology states that chronic usage of alcohol can lead to systemic inflammation.

Certain findings were expected, while others were surprising. Further research is needed to pinpoint the variations between expected cause and effect.

Eddie noted an example to Medical News Today, "Those citing cannabis as their primary substance did not have lower rates of alcohol-related liver disease than participants who primarily used alcohol. It may be that these individuals had prior histories of heavy alcohol involvement.”

In this study, the participants had a 4% to 7% higher risk of having two or more chronic illnesses, with factors such as additional substance use 10 or more times, being older when developing a disease, and the time in life when recovery began.

Not surprisingly, factors like younger age, social stability and economic resources greatly reduced the risk of ongoing disease.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.