Tip of the Iceberg

How addiction affects those around you and can lead to additional medical problems for the addict and family members.

Many times when people recovering from chemicals are asked how their addiction impacted their children, their response is that “they were not that impacted; I didn’t do it around them. I only drank after work, or I only smoked in the garage, or I would go in my room to do a line.” What the addict doesn’t recognize is the impact that has been created on the entire family.

Children are like sponges. They know a lot more than parents would like to believe. In addition, children from addicted families have a natural instinct to protect their parent. They often feel responsible or that their parent would not act unpredictable if they worked harder, were better or smarter.

The anxiety and stress of keeping the “family secret” by children and other family members (known as co-dependents), can cause physical and emotional problems as well(see Box A). It is important to note that more than 50 percent of young people who become addicted to chemicals were first exposed in their own home.

In addition to affecting family members, there is an increase in additional medical problems of the addict. Although addiction is considered the primary disease, it contributes to other diseases (see Box B).

Pat Simonetti, RN, clinical coordinator at Little Company of Mary – Peninsula Recovery Center explains, “addiction is a disease and like other diseases, your body has a physical response. If you put a person with asthma in a field of clover, they are going to have a physical response like breathing difficulties and wheezing. It’s the same with an addict. They are going to have a physical response to the chemical they put in their body.”

With continued use, many persons’ use or abuse of alcohol or other drugs becomes addiction, a disease in which the substances have caused changes in a person’s body, mind, and behavior. Chemical dependency is treated as a primary, progressive and chronic disease. The addictive process can lead to physical illness, behavioral problems, mental and emotional problems, serious societal consequences and spiritual bankruptcy.

As a result of this disease, addicted persons are unable to control their use of substances, despite the bad things that happen when they use them. Addiction may be a chronic, relapsing disorder and as the disease process progresses, recovery becomes more difficult.

Most people addicted to alcohol and other drugs cannot simply stop using them, no matter how strong their inner resolve.

Most need one or more courses of structured substance abuse treatment to reduce or end their dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs. Since the Affordable Care Act covers a lot more, including addiction, finding treatment is growing far less difficult. Simonetti explains, “relapse is common with chemical dependency because chemicals in the brain need time to rejuvenate. But with new treatment modalities being used today, relapse prevention is becoming more effective.”

At Peninsula Recovery Center, treatment is known as a family program. “Programs are tailored to meet the needs of the patient and programs are offered for both the addict and the co-dependent(s),” Simonetti says. The center offers inpatient detox and inpatient rehab programs as well as both day and evening outpatient programs.

The center is also helping to educate nursing students to heighten awareness of addiction. “Many times, patients are first seen in the emergency department, medical units, physician offices and surgical suites,” Simonetti explains. “Postoperative complications are sometimes caused by withdrawal symptoms. Patients are great at hiding things and when nurses are more aware of potential scenarios, they are able to take better histories and question the patient further.” Students in the nursing program at El Camino College are now doing a rotation at Peninsula Recovery Center.

Box A: Medical conditions of the co-dependent

Gastrointestinal Cardiovascular Skeletal Urinary Tract Sexuality
Esophagitis Hypertension Accidents Irritable bladder Loss of intimacy
Gastritis Irregular heartbeat Fractures Bedwetting Performance
Peptic ulcer Stroke Bruises   Acting out
Diarrhea/ Constipation   Burns   Emotional changes
Bulimia/Anorexia       Grief


Box B: Medical conditions of the addict

Alcohol Cocaine Marijuana Heroin IV
Liver disease Brain damage Respiratory
Brain damage Hepatitis
Heart disease Heart disease Brain damage Heart disease HIV
Diabetes Birth defects Reproductive
*CNS Embolism
Emphysema Nasal passage
Immune system
Immune system Respiratory problems *CNS effects   Heart disease
Birth defects *CNS effects     Phlebitis
* Central Nervous System