According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation (ALDF), Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium passed along by diseased ticks. If bitten by an infected tick, a person becomes afflicted by the inflammatory disease, which enters the bloodstream and spreads to different tissues throughout the body. In the summer of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that suggested the tickborne illness is a much greater public health threat than previously thought. As explained by NBC News, the CDC now estimates that more than 300,000 people are infected with the disease each year, a tenfold upward revision from earlier estimates. The CDC website also notes that 96% of reported Lyme disease cases in 2011 occurred in 13 states namely Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. It is the sixth most common “Nationally Notifiable disease” in the US, which is a high placement for a disease concentrated in a fraction of the country.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
The CDC’s Lyme disease page explains that Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, produces a number of common symptoms including the following:
- Reddish skin rash typically near the bite that grows to about six inches in diameter
- Initial physical discomforts such as chills, fever, headache, joint pain, and fatigue
- Next-stage afflictions such as meningitis, facial paralysis, and heart palpitations
- Later-stage symptoms include arthritis, severe pain, and chronic neurological issues
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, neurological complications can lead to concentration problems, sleep disorders, and nerve damage. If caught early Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics, and most patients make a fast and complete recovery. However, if the disease is left untreated for a prolonged period of time, the infected individual may suffer long-term complications including Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.
Lyme Disease and Substance Abuse
The CDC estimates that Lyme disease cases may be underreported by a factor of up to 12-fold, and those with untreated illness and lingering post-treatment effects may be more likely to abuse drugs. Motivated by a desire to self-medicate the symptoms, a person may seek out different drugs for various reasons including the following:
- Illicit or prescription opiates to mitigate the pain symptoms
- Illicit or prescription amphetamines to overcome fatigue
- Benzodiazepines to ease anxieties, insomnia, and agitation
- Marijuana for insomnia, sedation, and mental escape
Due to the considerable pain and fatigue experienced during the initial stages of Lyme disease, pain relievers and stimulants are the two types of drugs more commonly used to self-medicate the symptoms. There are also several reasons a person might turn to illicit drug use instead of a doctor including the following:
- The extent of the Lyme disease problem has only recently been recognized
- Lack of experience differentiating between bites from ticks and other creatures
- Delayed onset of symptoms may call into question their source of origin
- Certain symptoms come and go giving the illusion of improving health
Likewise, a person with a preexisting substance abuse problem may avoid seeking medical help for fear that a doctor may detect drugs in the bloodstream. Lyme disease must be treated, and drug addicts need to admit use during treatment. In 2007 the Acta Cardilogicajournal published a case report in which a drug addict with late-stag Lyme disease put their long-term prognosis at risk by failing to report the drug use.
Drug Abuse and Lyme Disease Help
Though they are different types of medical illnesses, both addiction and Lyme disease can be treated together. The CDC recommends a 2006 article in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal for guidelines on Lyme disease treatment, and they typically involve oral (for early stage) or intravenous (for later stage) administration of antibiotics. Many addiction rehabilitation centers can handle such treatments in-house or coordinate services with a local medical center. Dealing with the addiction itself, however, often requires a more comprehensive set of treatments, which can potentially include the following:
- Detox in a medically managed setting that minimizes withdrawal symptoms
- Integrated screenings and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- Behavioral therapies that improve conduct through healthier cognitive activity
- Individual counseling to address substance abuse cues that trigger cravings
- Motivational interviewing (MI) to help patients find their own recovery motivations
- Holistic options such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture promote overall wellness
- Development of positive new life skills, relationship tools, and coping mechanisms
- Group therapy to interact and develop support structures with other recovering addicts
Both addiction and Lyme disease may have lingering effects that continue after primary treatment, but rehabilitation centers offer aftercare services to maximize comfort and long-term recovery.