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Diseases Caused From Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

January 29, 2019

Not commonly considered when looking at the risks of drug abuse is the potential of disease. Diseases stemming from addiction can have a variety of causes, but one of the most common causes is the unsanitary conditions of intravenous drug use. If a person is not careful, these diseases could follow them around for the rest of their lives.

Many people may consider addiction to only be when a drug completely consumes an individual’s life to the point of not being able to function in society. In reality, addiction and abuse can take many forms. While addiction is characterized by the chemical dependency on a drug or substance, the effects of this dependency can vary.

Some individuals may be considered ‘functioning addicts’, which means they are able to live a normal life despite having a chemical dependency on a drug. These individuals are experts at hiding some of the other effects of this dependency such as financial troubles, difficulty keeping and maintaining personal relationships, mental health issues, and even disease.

Diseases From Addiction

The disease isn’t an outcome that is commonly thought about when considering addiction. Often we associate homelessness, difficulties with the law, and working for the next ‘fix’ with someone who is suffering from severe addiction. Disease, however, can be a silent lurker that is an even more dangerous part of addiction.

Disease from addiction can stem from many causes. Certain methods of administering some drugs, such as shooting heroin intravenously, can cause disease through unsanitary conditions. When a user, or dirty needle is the method of administration into the bloodstream, whatever the needle is contaminated with is then exposed to the body.

Other diseases can be caused by the consistent use of a certain type of drug. Many drugs have negative side effects on the body that can build over time. While these side effects may be able to be reversed if the drug use is stopped early on, they can become permanent over longer periods of time.

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Common Diseases Resulting From Alcohol Addiction And Abuse

Although it is a legal drug in the United States, alcohol is actually an extremely dangerous substance. The negative effects that alcohol can have on the body are astounding and are widely unknown as many people consider it a safe drug because of its legal status.

Alcohol is a potent drug – so potent that you can have withdrawal symptoms after just one night of drinking. Often times, we call this a hangover and just drink water until we no longer feel the symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol. Even if the thought of alcohol makes you nauseous during a morning hangover, your body is still craving more of the drug.

Drinking alcohol over a certain period of time can have devastating consequences for your body’s main organs. Common diseases attributed to alcoholism or alcohol abuse include:

Alcoholic Gastritis (Stomach Inflammation)

While gastritis can be caused by various factors, alcoholic gastritis is a specific type of stomach irritation that is caused by the overconsumption of alcohol. Over time, alcohol can erode the mucous lining of your stomach, which is intended to prevent irritating foods (like pepper or spice) as well as corrosive stomach acid from affecting the walls of your stomach. When this protective lining is eroded by alcohol, the wall of the stomach is exposed to these irritations which can cause nausea, ulcers, bleeding of the stomach/esophagus, and infections of the digestive system.

Alcoholic Myopathy (Disease Of  The Muscle Tissue)

Alcoholic myopathy is a disease that affects the muscular system. It can be characterized by muscle tenderness or soreness that can eventually develop into severe muscle weakness or atrophy. The result is an actual breakdown in skeletal muscle, leading to difficulty moving and/or incontinence.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy (Heart Disease)

In the same way that alcoholic myopathy can break down skeletal muscle affecting mobility and strength, alcoholic cardiomyopathy can break down the muscles of the heart. Alcohol can cause the degradation of the heart muscle over time, which can lead to droopy valves and ineffective heart functions. This is also known as heart failure.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Birth Defects)

Drinking alcohol has also been proven to have devastating effects on unborn babies while they are in the womb. Fetal alcohol syndrome actually generalizes the spectrum of disorders a child can suffer from when exposed to alcohol in the womb. The effects of these disorders can include learning disabilities, social anxiety, hearing loss, poor coordination, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and a wide range of other social and developmental disorders. Unfortunately, there are some women who believe it is still OK to drink in controlled amounts during pregnancy despite many studies proving that fetal alcohol syndrome can occur even with small amounts of alcohol.

Alcoholic Polyneuropathy (Disease Of The Peripheral Nerves)

Commonly characterized by numbness, tingling, phantom pains, and muscle problems surrounding nerve-rich areas like extremities, alcoholic polyneuropathy is caused by the prolonged use of alcohol. Over time, alcohol can actually poison the nerves in the central nervous system, leading to their breakdown in function and effectiveness. Alcoholic polyneuropathy can cause anything from impotence and numbness of the fingers and toes to the inability to walk or speak in severe cases.

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Perhaps one of the most commonly associated diseases with alcoholism, alcoholic liver disease is actually a generic term for the various effects alcohol can have on your liver. These effects include liver cirrhosis, fatty liver, chronic hepatitis with liver fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis. These conditions can be extremely dangerous and cause major complications which can lead to death.

Diseases Associated With Opioid Abuse And Addiction

With the opioid epidemic gaining momentum in recent decades, many new studies have come out demonstrating many of the true dangers of opioid addiction and abuse. Opioids hold a high risk for addiction, as well as some dangerous side effects. But did you know opioids can actually cause long-term and permanent diseases as well? These diseases can include:

Mental Disorders

Prolonged opioid use can have permanent effects on many parts of the brain, including those that control many emotional functions. As a result, these emotional functions can degrade overtime when the brain is constantly exposed to the drug. Examples of mental disorders can include severe depression, intermittent or constant anxiety, bipolar disorder (manic highs and depressive lows), as well as aggression and anger problems.

Hormonal Imbalances

Opioid use can cause a hormone imbalance after extended exposure to the drug, especially in females. This imbalance can cause mild effects, such as irregular menstrual periods or low sex drive (libido). However, more serious effects can arise if left untreated, including birth defects and infertility. It can also lead to Opioid-Induced Androgen Deficiency (OPIAD) which is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone or sex hormones as it should.


Immunosuppression is defined by a weakening of the immune system leading to increased susceptibility to disease and infection. While immunosuppression can be caused by various factors, studies have shown that prolonged opioid addiction or abuse can be a main cause of the disease. Common infections resulting from immunosuppression due to opioid abuse include hepatitis, HIV, and even cancer.

Diseases Associated With Cocaine/Crack Addiction And Abuse

Commonly associated with the party scene of the 80s, cocaine is a stimulant drug that can create a euphoric high and a rush of energy when taken. While cocaine use has declined slightly in recent years, it is still a drug commonly found at festivals and parties. Cocaine is considered by some to be a ‘safer’ drug to take recreationally, but unfortunately, this cannot be more untrue.

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug. So addictive, in fact, that you can become dependent (or crave the drug) after just a few uses. Cocaine can deplete nasal passageways, put enormous stress on the heart and circulatory system, and cause mental impairment when it is in your system. However, the long-term effects of cocaine can be even worse, and some can be irreversible. Some diseases caused by cocaine addiction and abuse can include:

Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is a condition where fluid gathers in the lungs. This condition can be found in long-term cocaine or crack users, specifically in those individual who smoke the drug. Inhaling the smoke from crack/cocaine can greatly reduce the effectiveness and functionality of one or both lungs, causing difficulty breathing and poor circulation. Pulmonary edema can be potentially fatal if left untreated.

“Crack lung”

Crack lung is a term used to generalize the various respiratory disorders that can occur in the 48 hours after an individual smokes crack/cocaine. These respiratory disorders usually need to be address by a professional physician to ensure further infection or degradation of lung function does not occur. Symptoms of crack lung can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, fever, severe coughing, spitting up blood, and lung failure.

Intestinal Gangrene

Early symptoms of intestinal gangrene include stomach cramps, abdominal tenderness, and bloody stool. These symptoms can occur as early as 2 hours after taking cocaine, and may delay up to 48. Although the exact interaction causing the disease is unknown, doctors believe it has something to do with cocaine’s ability to vasoconstrict, or narrow your blood vessels, in the bowel. Lack of circulation can lead to tissue necrosis or gangrene, allowing stool to freely flow outside of the intestine. This phenomenon is known as sepsis, and it can very quickly lead to death if left unattended.

Infection Of The Nasal Passageway

Frequent snorting of cocaine, along with other powdered versions of drugs, can cause severe degradation of the nasal passageways. Early symptoms such as random nosebleeds or tender/dry passageways can indicate that the cocaine is slowly eating away at the soft tissue within the nose. When this soft tissue is left open and is unable to heal due to continued cocaine use, infection can occur easily. As the nose is a part of a cavity, it is easy for this infection to thrive and spread to other areas of soft tissue in the face.

Addiction Is A Disease That Can Be Treated

Addiction can cause many negative effects on the human body and brain. From short term anxiety to permanent liver damage, drugs are potent chemicals to introduce into the chemical harmony our bodies have already built for us. While it is important to understand the complications that can arise from prolonged drug use, such as life-threatening diseases and irreversible damage, it is also important that we remember addiction itself is a disease.

No one wants to be addicted to a dangerous drug. While there may be some life events or decisions that can put an individual at risk for drug abuse, no one intentionally sets out to become addicted. Addiction is a disease, it is a chemical dependency that becomes too strong for us to have conscious control over.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this disease. Just as you would go to a hospital for a physical illness, there are specialized facilities that are designed specifically to treat the disease of addiction. These facilities have helped thousands of individuals struggling with addiction to fight through their disease and begin life again on the other side, drug-free.

If you believe you or a loved one could benefit from a specialized facility or treatment program such as these, we can help get you started. Contact one of our addiction treatment specialists today to learn more about the program types out there and what program will fit your needs best. Your call is always confidential, let us help you today.

Alcohol Research Current Review - Alcoholic Myopathy (NIDA) - Health Consequences of Drug Misuse

HealthLine- - Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy and Your Health -

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Facts

National Library of Medicine (NCBI) - Tolerance and Withdrawal From Prolonged Opioid Use in Critically Ill Children - Alcoholic Neuropathy

RSNA (Respiratory Journal) - Pulmonary Complications from Cocaine and Cocaine-based Substances: Imaging Manifestations

WebMD - What Is Gastritis?

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