Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Cancer Patients

Drug and alcohol abuse remains a noteworthy issue in the United States. In 2017, nearly 74% of individuals suffering from SUDs (substance use disorders) struggled with alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, cancer patients are at risk of developing an addiction to prescription medications like opioids.

You may have unanswered questions about alcohol or drug addiction among individuals with cancer. What are the effects of drug and alcohol use on the life expectancy of cancer patients? How can drug and alcohol addiction affect the mental health of cancer patients? How can these people manage their addiction and their cancer?

Fortunately, individuals struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, and diagnosed with cancer like mesothelioma, can get community support from sites like MesotheliomaGroup.  

This article discusses the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction on cancer patients’ mortality and the psychiatric problems related to the addictions themselves. We also cover the importance of community support.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse: Effects on Cancer Patients

Cancer is a severe group of diseases that can affect an individual’s physical well-being, mental health, and life expectancy. Meanwhile, substance abuse can cause severe psychological and psychiatric issues and produce economic and social problems.

People with cancer often experience high rates of mental disorders, mainly due to anxiety and depression. Research suggests that particular substances can cause “mutagenic” changes in genes.

One theory of researchers is that impairment of the immune system’s regulatory mechanisms is connected to the cancer-related processes that the substances induce.

Health professionals sometimes prescribe opioid pain relievers as an alternative therapy for treating acute pain in cancer patients.

Research suggests that opioids can become an addictive substance as a cancer-related factor. However, animal studies involving opioids have mixed results regarding their effects on tumor growth.

Meanwhile, researchers must conduct further studies on the potential use of cannabis as an alternative cancer therapy and the possible effects of using it with alcohol.

Research has established that alcohol is a risk factor for head and neck cancer. In addition, a study shows that higher alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer-related mortality.

Substance abuse can induce other effects on individuals with cancer, including:

  • Reduced treatment compliance
  • Worsened cancer prognosis
  • Lower quality of life

Managing Substance Addiction and Cancer

Past research highlights the significance of providing proper psychiatric interventions to handle substance abuse among cancer patients.

The American Cancer Society recommends individuals not drink alcohol or limit their intake to two drinks daily for men and one alcoholic beverage for women.

The alcohol limit is lower for women partly because their bodies generally break down alcohol more slowly than men.

Research is not conclusive about whether alcohol use following cancer treatments can increase the risk of the disease returning. However, alcohol may increase the chance of cancer occurrence. Researchers must conduct additional studies on this possible connection.

Medical researchers have conducted limited studies on cancer patients with SUDs. Such individuals with cancer generally experience worse outcomes.

Another factor to consider is that drug abuse itself can lead to severe health conditions like cancer.

Guidelines for treating cancer patients with SUDs can include:

  • Substance use can cause adverse outcomes. Still, researchers must conduct further studies on the oncology population.
  • An interprofessional team approach improves the customized management of patients with cancer and SUDs.
  • Substance use evaluation and screening are required to implement patient-focused harm-reduction interventions.

In addition, strong evidence shows that alcohol consumption can lead to particular types of cancer, such as oral, liver, or colon.

Hence, cancer patients should also consider the risks of alcohol and drug use developing into other forms of cancer.

The Importance of Community Support

When an individual receives a cancer diagnosis, the overwhelming experience can lead to depression and addiction. For example, an individual with cancer can experience feelings like shame and isolation. 

Community support can help an individual cope with a cancer diagnosis and alcohol or drug addiction. Such support can help individuals feel hope in themselves and replace depression with joy.

Community support can assist individuals in freeing themselves from addiction and focusing on the cancer treatments they need. 

A community support group can provide an informal way for cancer patients with addiction to interact with others with similar experiences. They can participate in real-life discussions pertaining to their struggles, which can help reduce stress.

In addition, a community support group can provide a more convenient way for people with cancer to share their feelings and experiences than when they are with their friends and family. Each support group member can feel a sense of belonging that helps individuals feel less isolated and better understood.

Research shows that cancer support groups can help people deal with anxiety and depression. These individuals can also become more optimistic and improve emotion management.

A community support group for cancer patients with drug or alcohol addictions can certainly be a good fit.


1. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Statistics (Facts About Addiction)


2.  Substance abuse and cancer


3. Alcohol use and cancer


4. Managing Addiction: Guidelines for Patients With Cancer