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Medical conditions that can be aggravated by substance use disorders

Known as SUD for short, a substance use disorder is a mental health disorder that causes a person to lose control of their use of substances. This can include legal or illegal substances – such as drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications. The addiction and dependency of substance use disorders can


Due to heightened levels of stress, trauma-inducing experiences, and prescription medications for physical injuries – Veterans are at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder compared to many civilians. As a result, existing medical conditions can become even worse, and they're more likely to develop new disorders as well.

Here are 6 medical conditions that can be made worse by substance use disorders:


Cardiovascular diseases


According to American Addiction Centers, substance use disorders – especially stimulant drugs and opioids – disrupt the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the body and brain. These disruptions can alter blood pressure and result in abnormal heart and blood vessel rhythm. The following cardiovascular conditions can be made much worse as a result:


  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease

  • Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes


Respiratory disorders


People who abuse drugs and alcohol long-term are more likely to develop respiratory infections. Substance abuse harms the immune system, damaging the body's natural defense system and also organs. Smoking, or inhaling substances, can dramatically worsen or bring about the following conditions:


  • Asthma

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Increased risk of lung infections.


Gastrointestinal disorders


Alcohol, stimulants, and opioids in high volume are all chaos for your digestive system. Alcohol blocks the metabolism of many important nutrients, and can also contribute to disordered eating habits which can disrupt your gastrointestinal system. Stimulants, such as cocaine, decrease blood supply to the digestive system – leading to a condition known as ischemia. The following can also be caused by SUD:


  • Gastritis

  • Ulcers

  • Pancreatitis


Mental health disorders


Substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders are often co-occurring meaning that they interact with one another and aggravate symptoms for both. It becomes a vicious cycle that can become very hard to break. The following are examples of commonly co-occuring mental health disorders with substance abuse:


  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • PTSD

  • Schizophrenia


Endocrine disorders


The endocrine system creates and spreads hormones throughout the entire body. Drug and alcohol abuse disrupt this process, rising blood pressure and increasing adrenaline levels. This can lead to (and worsen) common endocrine disorders, including:


  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid disorders


Liver diseases


Excessive alcohol consumption leads to a great deal of damage to the liver. Drinking too much can cause alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, and fatty liver. According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 65% of Veterans who entered a treatment program did so for alcohol abuse.


Need a medical expert on your side?


At MRPY Professional Services, we help our clients with the medical evidence for VA disability claims from chart review to Nexus Letter and more. Check out our services page here to view all that we can support you with, and when you're ready to get a chart review from one of our experts, click here.



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