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The Risk of Substance Abuse from Chronic Illnesses

The Risk of Substance Abuse from Chronic Illnesses

Between hospital bills and changing treatment plans, people with chronic health problems and severe medical conditions have plenty to worry about. Unfortunately, their problems may not end there.

The Connection Between Chronic Illness and Addiction

Chronic illnesses and addiction have a complicated relationship. Because of the changes in the brain with long-term substance abuse, addiction is considered a chronic disease itself. Addiction is typically long-lasting and will often get worse with time if the person does not get professional help such as our rehab in Pompano. Long-term drug abuse and addiction can also lead to other chronic illnesses or lasting health problems, even after someone gets sober.

Along with the fact that addiction is a chronic disease on its own, chronic illnesses can sometimes lead to this problem. People with chronic or severe illnesses may also be at risk of developing a drug or alcohol addiction, whether or not they are aware of it.

How Chronic Illness Can Lead to Addiction 

Serious, chronic, and life-threatening diseases can all increase a person’s chance of developing a substance abuse disorder for several reasons.

Misusing Medications

A big reason for the risk of substance abuse from chronic illnesses is because of opioids. Although the majority of people take their medications as prescribed, in 2017 alone, an estimated 18 million adult Americans had misused their medications at least once and most of these cases are from the misuse of prescription painkillers.1 Many patients with chronic illnesses are prescribed these medicines and may misuse them. Frequent misuse of these substances may lead to dependence and addiction, but opioid abuse for chronic pain is a slippery slope. Many people who become addicted to painkillers may eventually turn to heroin because it is often a higher potency. This pattern is part of the reason that people who may even be cured of their illnesses still struggle with opioid abuse long after. If you or someone you care about is misusing these medications, find a painkiller addiction treatment center near you sooner rather than later.

Combating Pain on Their Own

Sometimes the pain is so great that the medication they are prescribed may not be enough. In times like these, patients become desperate to find relief on their own and may take matters into their own hands in the search for more effective or stronger drugs. For example, some cancer patients will turn to marijuana to try and ease nausea during chemotherapy. Other people suffering from intense pain could turn to heroin if their painkillers don’t seem strong enough. In both cases, dependence could develop, or patients could start to slide down the slippery slope that is addiction.

Struggling to Cope 

Another reason for the risk of substance abuse from chronic illnesses involves the psychological toll that these serious health problems can have on patients. Substance abuse is often the result of underlying mental health issues, as many people with terminal or serious medical problems struggle with poor mental health. One survey found that 29% of adults with medical conditions also have mental health disorders.2 Those with more serious and life-threating illnesses may struggle more. For example, another study found that 16% of cancer patients had symptomatic anxiety and 21% has symptomatic depression.3

People with poor mental health may struggle to cope with their medical condition and instead turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the psychological pain. When this behavior becomes habitual, dependence and addiction are likely to develop. These patients need a dual diagnosis treatment center that will help them with both their mental health and their addiction at the same time.  

Lost Hope

At a certain point, some of these patients may have lost hope. There may be little chance of improvement for their condition or their issues may even be terminal. When some people reach this point, they may become depressed and develop a “who cares” or “I give up” mentality. This mindset often leads to self-destructive behavior like substance abuse because they feel that they have nothing left to lose.

You have enough to worry about when it comes to serious medical problems, don’t add addiction to your list of issues. Drug and alcohol abuse can make these problems even worse, so do not wait to get help.

If you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem, we want to help. At Banyan Treatment Centers Pompano, we will be with you every step of the way. Call us today at 888-280-4763 to get started.


  1. NIH – What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?
  2. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – Mental disorders and medical comorbidity
  3. NCBI – Prevalence of depression and anxiety among cancer patients

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.