Drug/Alcohol-Abuse Counseling

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 alone.


  1. Offer physical and psychological evaluation services to determine the nature of the problem and to make treatment recommendations.

  2. Provide outpatient counseling to help develop other ways of coping with stress and anxiety.

  3. Provide inpatient treatment programs if outpatient counseling has not been helpful and a more intensive program is needed.

  4. Put you in touch with community-based support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

  5. Provide help for family members who are affected by dependency on drugs or alcohol through individual or group counseling, Al Anon, or AlAteen.


  1. 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.

  2. 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 cancer treatment.

  • 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.


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