The diagnosis and treatment of cancer does not normally lead people to
develop problems with alcohol or drugs. However, some people who are
diagnosed with cancer already have an alcohol or drug dependency. If
this is the case, it is very important that those problems be
addressed. Alcohol and drug abuse can interfere with cancer treatment.
For instance, if a person needs surgery, alcohol or drug dependency
can create problems with anesthesia. Chemotherapy can cause mouth
sores and alcohol will make these worse. People who use alcohol or
drugs often have poor nutrition habits and this can become a serious
problem during chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Alcohol or drug
dependency also negatively affects how people cope with the emotional
demands of the illness.
Family members of people with addiction problems are always affected.
Family members are often unsure about how to help and sometimes feel
angry at the person with the problem. This anger is understandable
because of the damage drug or alcohol problems can cause for family
life. Family members may also feel responsible for the problem and
question why their love and concern doesn't help the person give up
the drugs or alcohol. It is very important that families of addicted
persons get help for themselves in dealing with these feelings. The
stresses of cancer, combined with those associated with drug or
alcohol abuse, are just too difficult for most families to handle
HOW DRUG AND ALCOHOL COUNSELING SERVICES CAN HELP
- Offer physical and psychological evaluation services to determine
the nature of the problem and to make treatment recommendations.
- Provide outpatient counseling to help develop other ways of coping
with stress and anxiety.
- Provide inpatient treatment programs if outpatient counseling has
not been helpful and a more intensive program is needed.
- Put you in touch with community-based support groups such as
Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
- Provide help for family members who are affected by dependency on
drugs or alcohol through individual or group counseling, Al Anon, or
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- People sometimes have difficulty admitting they have a problem
with drugs or alcohol. It is important for your doctor to be aware of
your problem since drug or alcohol abuse can interfere with cancer
treatment and its side effects. Health-care professionals are very
willing to help if you can be honest about the problem. They will
refer you to either a hospital or community-based program. If you are
unwilling to discuss this with your doctor and still want help, you
can also call Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
- Drug and alcohol treatment programs are available within some
general hospitals or in specialized hospitals devoted to these
problems. There are also outpatient programs offered within community
agencies, such as your community mental-health agency.
- Coping with cancer can be difficult. Depending on alcohol or drugs to
cope won't help. Use of alcohol or drugs may also interfere with your
- The most difficult part about having a problem with drugs or alcohol
is admitting that you have one. Once you have done that, help is there
for you. People often feel guilty or ashamed about being addicted, but
addiction is an illness, as cancer is. Just as we hope you won't deny
yourself lifesaving treatment for your cancer, we hope you won't deny
yourself the same for a drug or alcohol problem.
- If you are a family member of a person with addiction problems,
consider getting help for yourself. Even if the patient is reluctant
to admit the problem or to seek help, families still have to deal with
the effects of alcohol or drug dependency, plus the stress of a cancer
diagnosis. Talk to your social worker or nurse about services
available within the hospital or in the community.
- Even if you've already tried before to give up your addiction and
it hasn't worked, please try again. Every life can be worthwhile, even
if it doesn't seem like it at the moment. Give the health-care team a
chance to help you.
- Cigarette smoking is also an addiction. Continued smoking may
affect your chances of long term survival following cancer treatment.
Ask about smoking cessation programs in your hospital or community or
call the American Cancer Society for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute