Recognizing When Addiction Has Taken a Toll on Health

middle age man sitting at home on the couch drinking a bottled beer, looking rather unhealthy - health

Addiction is a brain disease that, while not curable, can be managed effectively. However, excessive use of substances or alcohol is also a major contributing factor to additional—and often serious—medical issues. For some people, the road to better health is much more complicated as a result.

Damage to Your Health Caused by Drugs & Alcohol

Any substance used to excess will throw off the balance of your personal ecosystem. For example, in the past decade, researchers have cautioned against too much sugar. In fact, a report from Harvard Medical School in January 2022 stated that the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease—by nearly 40 percent.

Extensive sugar in the diet, found in sweets, refined carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice, and processed products, also contributed to:

  • Fatty liver disease, also known as steatosis
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Weight gain
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke

So if simple sugar can cause these types of difficulties, imagine how illicit drugs—often manufactured with harmful household products—and alcohol contribute to illness.

Illicit Drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that “people with [drug] addiction often have one or more associated health issues, which could include lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, or mental health conditions.” The NIDA notes that other medical issues pop up as well:

  • Drug injection causes 1 in 10 cases of HIV, spreads hepatitis C, and is responsible for heart problems such as endocarditis (inflammation of the organ’s valves and chambers) and cellulitis (a potentially serious bacterial skin condition).
  • Inhalants often damage the liver, kidneys, and nerve cells—either in the peripheral nervous system or the brain.
  • Methamphetamine or meth use creates severe dental issues, sometimes referred to as “meth mouth” as well as various heart problems.
  • Cocaine causes individuals to be more susceptible to infection and frequently leads to heart attacks and strokes.
  • While some people develop mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and others prior to addiction, substance use disorder (SUD) definitely makes them worse.


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that alcohol use disorder (AUD) takes “a serious toll on your health.” Medical problems associated with heavy drinking include:

  • Brain communication, resulting in changes in behavior and mood.
  • Liver inflammation and diseases, such as steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Heart issues such as cardiomyopathy (drooping or stretching of the heart muscle), high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and stroke.
  • Pancreatitis, which the NIAAA defines as “a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.”
  • Various types of cancers. “According to the National Cancer Institute, there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer. In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen,” the NIAAA says.

Further, chronic drug and alcohol use weakens the immune system, increasing the chances to contract different diseases, such as pneumonia, and reducing the body’s ability to avoid infections.

Putting Two & Two Together

If you or a loved one use drugs or alcohol to excess and have noticed a swift decline in overall health or more medical problems recently, it’s possible that SUD or AUD is making matters worse.

The combination of addiction and ill health means you’re fighting a battle with many fronts and no chance of conquering them without professional intervention. This scenario might be some people’s definition of hitting rock bottom. For others, it’s a warning that their ‘misery threshold’ is close: the point when they can no longer accept circumstances as they are.

It’s not uncommon for individuals to enter addiction treatment only to be sent directly to another medical facility for immediate attention to serious health issues. After all, trying to overcome challenges with a chronic disease such as SUD or AUD will only be more difficult if your heart is failing or a liver condition requires medical care. So addiction professionals first try to stabilize the body before advancing to substance detoxification and various therapies of recovery.

Treating Addiction Is Just One Aspect of Whole-Person Health at Willingway

Detailed intake assessments and a thorough continuum of care plan are the two foundational pillars of successful addiction treatment. At Willingway, our board-certified professionals conduct a whole-person examination, working together from many areas of health to identify the full picture of an individual in body, mind, and spirit and create a path to wellness. Our medical and clinical teams are also able to extend treatment for anxiety, depression, mood disorders, OCD, PTSD, and other emotional disorders.

Making the choice to be healthier is one thing; needing to become healthier to stop the damage of addiction takes the decision to a higher level. Choose specialists who can help you take that first step with confidence and support. Talk to a member of our admissions staff today.

Do you or someone you know need medical detox in Georgia? To find out more about services offered by Willingway contact us 24 hours a day at 912-207-7227, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.Willingway - Addiction Treatment Experts