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The Alarming Rise of Alcohol Abuse Among Cancer Patients

Cancer is a formidable adversary that brings physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. As if the battle against this relentless disease isn’t daunting enough, an alarming trend is emerging: the increase of cancer patients who are abusing alcohol. This article delves into the complex relationship between cancer and alcohol abuse, exploring the contributing factors, potential consequences, and the importance of addressing this issue to ensure the overall well-being of those facing the dual burden of cancer and addiction. Hopefully, helping us towards a better understanding of the alarming rise of alcohol abuse among cancer patients.

The Silent Struggle

  1. Coping Mechanisms: The emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis can lead some patients to turn to alcohol as a way to cope with fear, anxiety, depression, and the uncertainty that accompanies the disease.
  2. Pain Management: Some cancer patients, particularly those undergoing treatments with painful side effects, may turn to alcohol in an attempt to alleviate physical discomfort.
  3. Isolation and Loneliness: Cancer treatment regimens can be isolating, leading patients to seek solace in alcohol as a means of temporary escape from their daily challenges.

Contributing Factors

  1. Lack of Awareness: The link between cancer and alcohol abuse isn’t always widely recognized by healthcare providers or patients themselves, leading to missed opportunities for intervention.
  2. Stigma and Mental Health: Stigma surrounding both cancer and addiction can prevent patients from seeking help for their alcohol use, perpetuating the cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  3. Societal Norms: Cultural and societal norms around alcohol use may contribute to patients feeling that it’s an acceptable way to cope with the stress and emotional turmoil of a cancer diagnosis.

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in Cancer Patients

  1. Impact on Treatment: Alcohol abuse can interfere with the effectiveness of cancer treatments, reduce adherence to prescribed regimens, and exacerbate the physical toll of the disease.
  2. Mental Health: Alcohol abuse can worsen anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues commonly experienced by cancer patients.
  3. Quality of Life: Alcohol abuse can diminish the overall quality of life for cancer patients, hindering their ability to enjoy meaningful experiences and maintain social connections.

Addressing the Issue

  1. Enhanced Awareness: Healthcare providers must be vigilant in recognizing signs of alcohol abuse in cancer patients and creating an open environment where patients feel comfortable discussing their alcohol use.
  2. Integrated Support: Incorporating mental health and addiction services into cancer care can provide patients with the comprehensive support they need to navigate the emotional and physical challenges they face.
  3. Education: Patients should be educated about the potential risks of alcohol use during cancer treatment and offered healthier coping mechanisms to address emotional distress.

A Holistic Approach to Healing

The increase in alcohol abuse among cancer patients highlights the need for a holistic approach to cancer care. Addressing the emotional and psychological needs of patients is as crucial as treating the physical aspects of the disease. By fostering awareness, integrating support services, and offering healthier coping strategies, we can empower cancer patients to face their challenges with resilience, dignity, and the support they deserve.

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Cancer Resilience

Counseling for Cancer Patients and their Loved Ones

Counseling for Cancer Patients and their Loved Ones

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event that reverberates through every aspect of a person’s existence. Beyond the physical manifestations of the disease, cancer inflicts profound emotional, practical, and existential challenges on patients and their loved ones. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the emotional health impact of facing cancer, addressing practical challenges such as managing treatment side effects and exhaustion, as well as the deeply personal and spiritual dimensions of confronting mortality. Central to this discussion is the pivotal role of seasoned counselors specialized in providing counseling for cancer patients and their families, who offer invaluable support and guidance throughout the journey.

The Emotional Twister of Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, often entails a barrage of debilitating side effects that take a toll on patients’ emotional well-being. From persistent nausea and vomiting to debilitating fatigue and hair loss, these physical symptoms can erode patients’ sense of agency and vitality, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. Moreover, the uncertainty surrounding treatment outcomes and the fear of disease progression can engender profound anxiety and distress, exacerbating the emotional burden of the cancer journey.

Confronting Mortality and Existential Angst

One of the most profound challenges of facing cancer is coming to terms with one’s mortality and grappling with existential questions about the meaning and purpose of life. The diagnosis thrusts individuals into a state of existential limbo, where they must reconcile their hopes and aspirations with the stark reality of their finite existence. Faced with the specter of death, patients may experience profound grief, anger, and existential angst as they navigate the uncertainties of the future and confront the fragility of their own mortality.

Navigating Relationships and Social Support

Cancer not only affects the individual diagnosed but also reverberates through their relationships with family, friends, and caregivers. Loved ones often experience a myriad of emotions, ranging from fear and sadness to guilt and helplessness, as they witness their loved one’s struggle with the disease. Communication breakdowns, role changes, and caregiver burden can strain relationships and exacerbate emotional distress for both patients and their support networks. Nurturing open and honest communication, setting boundaries, and seeking external support are crucial strategies for maintaining healthy relationships and fostering resilience in the face of cancer-related challenges.

The Importance of Working with Seasoned Cancer Counselors

Amidst the tumult of cancer diagnosis and treatment, the guidance and support of seasoned counselors specializing in oncology can be invaluable. These professionals possess the expertise and insight necessary to help patients and their families navigate the complex emotional terrain of cancer, offering tailored interventions to address their unique needs and concerns. From providing psychoeducation about coping strategies and stress management techniques to facilitating support groups and individual counseling sessions, cancer counselors play a pivotal role in promoting emotional resilience, facilitating adaptive coping, and enhancing quality of life for patients and their loved ones.

The Emotional Impact of Surviving Cancer

The emotional impact of facing cancer is profound and multifaceted, encompassing practical challenges, existential dilemmas, and interpersonal dynamics. By acknowledging the complexity of the cancer experience and embracing holistic support, patients and their families can navigate the journey with greater resilience, hope, and meaning. Seasoned counselors specializing in oncology serve as trusted allies and guides, offering compassionate care and evidence-based interventions to address the emotional needs of those affected by cancer. Through collaborative efforts and compassionate support, we can foster healing, resilience, and empowerment in the face of adversity.

Psychological Challenges of Chemo and Radiation Therapy

Cancer is not a disease which will only affect a person physically. It is also something which will affect a person emotionally and psychologically. This has always been the hardest to handle and that’s why counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones is recommended for many oncology patients by their physicians.

Getting to know that a person has cancer is a really hard thing for the patient as well as for the loved one. Even though people are happy to get treated and healed. There are many times the treatment itself have greatly affected the patients, psychologically. It is hard to say whether it is the side effect of medications alone or a phase of psychological acceptance of the disease. What has become clear is that counseling for a patient should be carried out throughout the whole time of treatment and sometimes even after a full recovery. This might help a patient develop confidence, self esteem and resilience. Whether you admit it or not, all cancer patients are fighters… GREAT fighters. Their confidence goes down only because, at times, they don’t accept it.

Keep In Mind

Many psychiatrists believe that the transitional period after an intensive cancer treatment is the most likely period to cause psychological distress. For some patients this period may be as stressful, or even more so, as it was to initially undergo the treatment itself.

Further, the people around the patient might expect the patient to be ‘completely normal’ after the successful treatment and may not appreciate what the patient has already gone through…and is still going through. But, many people do not understand that the cancer patients become more sensitive, anxious and uncertain about things around him. It is very easy to understand. A person who has lived for months in the sorrow, fear and uncertainty of leaving the loved once and all the other things takes some time to get back to who he was. Even though a doctor may confirm their full recovery many patients stay uncertain for a while.

How a cancer patient is affected psychologically depends on many factors:
  • Age
  • Overall temperament in normal
  • Coping skills
  • Social supports
  • Type of cancer
  • Severity
  • Family/ friends support
  • Memory and thinking after chemotherapy

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has many side effects. It does not only kill cancer cells, but it also affects many other normal cells in the body. Among these are the brain cells. About 20% – 60% of cancer patients who undergo standard doses of chemotherapy, experience some degree of cognitive dysfunction and memory problems.

The affected brain is casually often called ‘chemo brain’. The main cause of the chemo brain is presumed to be the neuro-toxic effects of chemotherapy. The chemo brain causes diffused mental cloudiness and may affect a person’s cognition, social and occupational behaviors, sense of his own self and the quality of life. Moreover, it affects concentration, memory, comprehension and reasoning as well. And the common byproduct of these is our favorite “S” word; stress.

The studies have shown that many people undergoing this type of cancer treatment have problems with short term memory and difficulty recalling words. Some patients are not acknowledged about these changes and are alarmed at the presence of it and misunderstanding it as a spread or worsening of the disease. But, when people know what they are going through, even when scary, painful or difficult they often experience a much lower stress level and consequently are able to prepare and face these symptoms quite bravely.

Chemo Brain and Me

The effects of chemo brain may exist during chemotherapy and even afterwards up to 10 years, in some cases. These changes may be subtle in most patients, while for some it can be more profound. At the moment there are no specific treatments and preventive measures known, but, if the patients have problems with thinking or memory, which interferes with the daily work, he/she may seek help from a doctor.

There are different memory training exercises and programs and also many other treatments which will improve the brain function such as problem solving abilities and logical thinking. Finding a counselor and being familiar with this situation is a brave step for the patient as well as the loved ones.

As all the other drugs, chemotherapy has its side effects too. But every person does not face the same experience during chemotherapy. Some have really less amount of side effects while the others find it very hard to face the treatment.

Other psychological issues after chemotherapy and radiotherapy

People, who suffer from cancer for a long time, deal with a lot of stress. They may face problems with sleep, concentration and appetite. Add that with physical symptoms such as palpitations, due to the intensive treatment which they go through. Some oncologists also mention that they find patients fearful and hyper-vigilant.

According to many recent studies, one third of cancer survivors have suffered from symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder;

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the event(cancer treatment)
  • Reliving the event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams about the having cancer and getting treated
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

This shows us the huge need of counseling and psychological support for cancer patients together with the cancer treatment. (And caregivers and loved ones also need support during this time.) Even though being alive is something to be happy about, it can also be a very challenging time.

Why Come to Me for Counseling?

Cancer Resilience is one of my areas of specialty and is a personal passion. I am a Nationally board certified and licensed professional counselor who is dedicated to my clients. My approach is based on several counseling styles and I tailor them to each patient according to their unique situation. If you are facing this journey, or love someone who is, please call. I’d like to help.

Getting Started Is So Easy – You Can Do It Online

Ben Carrettin is a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC). His areas of specialty include counseling for cancer, cardiac disease, organ transplant and serious medical patients and their families, as well as other select areas. Ben is also a Lay Chaplain with advanced training in pastoral care and is personally passionate about his work and his commitment to his clients.