August 8, 2023

The Silent Struggle: Living with a Chronic Illness in Recovery

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Julie Miller

Addiction & Mental Health Writer

Last Update on August 8, 2023

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Going through addiction and finding recovery often involves significant personal growth, but some people also have to deal with the challenges of living with a chronic illness.

Managing their health condition and recovery can be difficult, as one can worsen the other.

This article explores the experiences of individuals who are dealing with chronic illness and recovery, providing guidance, coping techniques, and a plan to navigate this difficult situation with strength and determination.


What is a Chronic Illness?

A chronic illness is a medical condition that lasts for a prolonged period, typically over three months.

They require ongoing management and treatment, unlike short-term acute illnesses.

These conditions can vary from autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, to chronic respiratory ailments like asthma and even mental health issues like depression or bipolar disorder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of all adults in the United States, approximately 117 million people, have at least one chronic illness and around 25% of adults have more than one chronic illness.1

Chronic illnesses can significantly affect a person’s physical health, emotional well-being, social interactions, and daily functioning.

To live with a chronic illness, individuals must adapt their lifestyle, seek appropriate medical care, and develop coping mechanisms to manage symptoms and maintain overall well-being.

Living with a chronic illness can pose physical, emotional, and financial challenges.

It requires a comprehensive approach to treatment, support, and adaptation to maintain the best possible quality of life for those affected by these conditions.


Different Types of Chronic Illnesses

Chronic Illness Description
Diabetes Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is a condition of insulin resistance where the body doesn’t use insulin properly. Both types require ongoing management of blood sugar levels through diet, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Asthma Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes the airways in the lungs to become inflamed and narrowed, leading to difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing. Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and may be triggered by allergens, respiratory infections, exercise, or other irritants. Management involves using inhalers and avoiding triggers.
Heart Disease Heart disease includes various conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. These conditions can include coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart valve problems. Heart disease is a leading cause of death globally and is often linked to risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obesity, and smoking. Management involves lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases, surgical procedures.
Arthritis Arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of over 100 different joint disorders that cause inflammation and joint pain. The most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder. Arthritis can lead to reduced joint mobility and chronic pain. Management involves pain relief medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.
Depression Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and fatigue. It is a common chronic mental health condition that can significantly impact a person’s emotional well-being, daily functioning, and quality of life. Management involves psychotherapy, medication, and self-care practices.
Hashimoto’s Disease Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This leads to inflammation and destruction of the thyroid tissue over time. It requires ongoing medical management and treatment to maintain thyroid function as a chronic condition. People with Hashimoto’s may experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, sensitivity to cold, and difficulty concentrating. Proper management involves thyroid hormone replacement therapy and regular monitoring to ensure optimal thyroid hormone levels and minimize symptoms.



The Challenges of Living with a Chronic Illness in Recovery

To provide effective support to individuals dealing with both chronic illness and addiction recovery, it’s important to have a deep understanding of their complex relationship.

People with ongoing health conditions may use self-medication or unhealthy coping mechanisms to ease their physical or emotional burdens.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a dangerous cycle of substance dependency, making managing chronic illness and addiction more difficult.

Living with a chronic illness in addiction recovery can present significant challenges that require a comprehensive and tailored approach to treatment and support.

One of the primary challenges is the physical limitations imposed by the chronic illness, which can impact the recovery process.

Managing physical symptoms and limitations may hinder participation in certain activities or therapies, so adapting the addiction recovery program to accommodate the individual’s needs is important.

Emotional and mental health struggles are also prevalent among individuals dealing with both conditions.

Chronic illness can cause emotional distress, such as frustration, grief, or fear about the future.

Simultaneously, the addiction recovery process can be emotionally challenging, with the risk of triggers or setbacks that may exacerbate emotional struggles.

Addressing mental health concerns through therapy and support groups becomes essential to maintain emotional well-being and prevent relapse.

The role of medication is crucial in managing both chronic illness and addiction recovery.

However, this poses another challenge, as certain medications used to treat chronic conditions may have the potential for abuse or interact negatively with substances.

Finding a delicate balance between managing chronic illness symptoms and minimizing the risk of relapse requires close monitoring by healthcare professionals.

Collaborating with a healthcare team that understands both chronic illness and addiction recovery can help find appropriate medication options that align with the individual’s recovery goals.

Overall, the challenges of living with a chronic illness in addiction recovery necessitate a holistic approach that addresses physical limitations, emotional struggles, and the careful management of medications.

Empathy, support, and personalized treatment plans are essential in helping individuals effectively navigate both conditions, promoting a successful and sustainable path to recovery and overall well-being.



The Stigma Attached to Having a Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness can be challenging due to its stigma.4

This social phenomenon affects millions of people worldwide and can lead to discrimination, isolation, and skepticism from others.

Unlike acute conditions, chronic illnesses are often invisible, leading to misunderstandings and misconceptions.

This stigma is fueled by a lack of awareness and understanding, fear of the unknown, and societal norms prioritizing able-bodiedness and good health.

The negative impact of this stigma on those affected is significant.

People living with chronic illnesses may experience shame, guilt, and self-blame, leading them to hide their conditions and avoid seeking necessary support and medical care.

This can make it more challenging to manage their condition and impact their mental and emotional well-being.

Furthermore, the stigma can affect the quality of healthcare that individuals with chronic illnesses receive.

Some healthcare providers may dismiss their symptoms, attributing them to psychological factors or labeling them as drug-seekers.

This kind of treatment can lead to delayed or inadequate medical attention, worsening health outcomes, and decreased overall quality of life.

To address this issue, it’s essential to promote education and awareness about various chronic conditions, dispel myths and misconceptions, and encourage empathy and understanding.

Open conversations and visibility of individuals living with chronic illnesses can challenge stereotypes and normalize their experiences.

Additionally, healthcare professionals must receive training on providing compassionate and patient-centered care, ensuring that individuals with chronic illnesses are treated with dignity and respect.

By creating a more inclusive and empathetic society, we can help reduce the stigma surrounding chronic illnesses and foster an environment of support and acceptance for all individuals, regardless of their health conditions.


Creating a Holistic Self-Care Plan

Developing a comprehensive self-care plan that addresses the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – is crucial for those dealing with chronic illness and addiction recovery.5

Taking a holistic approach to self-care is essential for overall health and recovery.

When individuals include self-care practices that address both conditions, they can experience significant improvements in their well-being and recovery outcomes.

Physical health is crucial for overall well-being and recovery, so engaging in regular physical activities like walking, yoga, or swimming can improve heart health, reduce stress, and boost mood.

A healthy diet that includes nutritious foods is also important for providing essential nutrients for healing, supporting the immune system, and stabilizing blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.

Getting enough sleep is essential for physical and emotional restoration during the recovery journey.

Emotional well-being is important for managing chronic illnesses, so practices like mindfulness or meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety and build emotional resilience.

Seeking professional therapy or counseling can also help address past traumas and emotional triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Spiritual self-care practices can help individuals find meaning, purpose, and inner strength through prayer, time in nature, and activities that align with personal values and beliefs.

Incorporating various spiritual self-care practices is important to maintain a balanced and fulfilling life.

Integrating a range of self-care practices into daily routines is fundamental to effectively coping with chronic illness and recovery.

By simultaneously addressing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, individuals can attain a more balanced and sustainable approach to healing and managing these conditions.

Recognizing the significance of self-care as a vital component of the recovery process is important.


Building a Support System

Creating a strong support system is crucial for individuals battling chronic illness and addiction.

Building a network of support that includes healthcare professionals, therapists, and support groups can offer invaluable guidance and motivation throughout the journey.

Healthcare professionals provide specialized medical care and expertise in managing chronic illnesses, while therapists can help individuals cope with the emotional toll of living with both conditions.

Support groups tailored to chronic illness and addiction recovery patients create a unique environment for shared experiences and empathetic understanding.

Connecting with others facing similar challenges can foster a sense of belonging, reduce isolation, and inspire hope and resilience.

Family and friends also play a vital role in providing understanding and encouragement.

They can offer a safe space to share struggles and triumphs, providing emotional support during challenging times.

Their unwavering encouragement can motivate individuals to stay committed to their recovery journey and manage their chronic illnesses effectively.

Moreover, involving family and friends in the support system can improve the individual’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Peer support groups offer particular benefits for individuals dealing with chronic illness and addiction recovery.

These groups create a supportive community where members can openly discuss their experiences without fear of judgment.

Being surrounded by individuals who understand the complexities of managing both conditions can instill a sense of validation and reduce the stigma often attached to chronic illnesses.

Sharing coping strategies, success stories, and setbacks within the peer group can provide valuable insights and practical tips for navigating the journey effectively.

The encouragement, understanding, and shared experiences provided by such a network contribute to improved emotional well-being, increased resilience, and a greater likelihood of successfully managing both conditions.


Developing Resilience and Coping Mechanisms

Developing resilience and coping mechanisms is crucial when dealing with chronic illness and addiction recovery.

Resilience is overcoming adversity, adapting to challenges, and maintaining a positive outlook despite difficult circumstances.

This is a valuable skill for those facing both chronic illness and addiction recovery, as both can present challenges and setbacks.

One effective coping strategy is surrounding oneself with supportive and empathetic individuals, such as healthcare professionals, therapists, family, friends, and support groups.

Sharing experiences and learning from others’ coping strategies can help individuals navigate setbacks more effectively and avoid feelings of isolation.

Mindfulness practices, like meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help manage stress and anxiety triggered by chronic illness.

By staying present in the moment and accepting thoughts and emotions without judgment, individuals can reduce the emotional burden and prevent relapse triggered by stress.

Another important coping strategy is setting realistic goals and expectations.

Chronic illness and addiction recovery can be challenging, and individuals may face setbacks or limitations.

By setting achievable goals and acknowledging progress, no matter how small, individuals can maintain a sense of accomplishment and motivation on their journey.

Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation can also help buffer against the challenges of chronic illness and addiction recovery.

Hobbies, creative outlets, leisure time in nature, or physical activities can help individuals maintain a positive mindset and improve overall well-being.

By building a strong support system, practicing mindfulness, setting achievable goals, engaging in enjoyable activities, and seeking professional help, individuals can navigate setbacks and triggers more effectively, enhancing their ability to live fulfilling lives while managing both conditions.


Coping Mechanisms for Chronic Illness and Addiction Recovery

Coping Mechanism Description
Support Groups Joining support groups specifically tailored for individuals dealing with chronic illness and addiction recovery can offer a safe space to share experiences, seek guidance, and build a sense of community. Interacting with others who understand the challenges of managing both conditions can provide valuable insights and emotional support.
Mindfulness Practices Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals in recovery manage stress and anxiety related to both chronic illness and addiction. Practicing mindfulness fosters self-awareness and emotional resilience, allowing individuals to respond to challenges more composedly.
Therapy and Counseling Engaging in therapy or counseling can provide a safe and non-judgmental environment to explore the emotional toll of living with both chronic illness and addiction recovery. Therapists can help individuals process past traumas, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and enhance their overall well-being.
Physical Activity Regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can benefit chronic illness management and addiction recovery. Exercise helps reduce stress, improve mood, and promote overall physical health, contributing to a more balanced and resilient state of mind.
Self-Compassion and Acceptance Practicing self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding, especially during challenging times. By accepting both chronic illness and addiction recovery as part of their journey, individuals can reduce self-criticism and develop a more positive outlook. This can help them focus on progress rather than perfection.


Some people may experience chronic Lyme disease, which is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium and can be transmitted via infected black-legged ticks.

While antibiotics can cure most cases of Lyme disease, prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent the infection from spreading and causing more severe symptoms.

Chronic Lyme disease can lead to long-lasting health issues such as fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, and cognitive difficulties.2

However, there is still debate among medical professionals about the diagnosis and treatment of chronic Lyme disease, and further research is needed to understand its origins and most effective treatment methods fully.


Celebrities with a Chronic Illness

Many famous individuals have bravely shared their struggles with chronic illnesses, bringing attention to these conditions and helping to reduce the stigma associated with them.

One such example is Lady Gaga, who has been open about her battle with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder.3

By using her platform to advocate for chronic pain sufferers and promote research into fibromyalgia, she has inspired others to seek help and understanding.

Similarly, Selena Gomez has shared her experience with lupus, an autoimmune disease, shedding light on the challenges those living with chronic illnesses face.

These celebrities’ willingness to share their stories has provided hope and encouragement to countless individuals dealing with similar health issues, proving that chronic illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of their fame or status.

The Importance of Self-Compassion and Acceptance

Practicing self-compassion and acceptance is important when dealing with chronic illness and recovery.

Trying to be perfect can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration, so letting go of those unrealistic expectations is essential.

Acknowledge that nobody is perfect and setbacks are okay.

Treating yourself with kindness and understanding during difficult times can reduce self-criticism and foster a more positive attitude toward healing.

Celebrating small victories in the journey of living with chronic illness and recovery is also important.

No matter how small the progress, acknowledging it can instill a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep going.

Chronic illness and recovery can be challenging, and celebrating even minor achievements can reinforce a sense of resilience and perseverance.

Embracing the healing journey involves recognizing that recovery and managing a chronic illness are ongoing processes.

Accepting setbacks and obstacles are a natural part of the journey is essential.

Individuals can cultivate a more compassionate and gentle approach to their experiences by being patient with themselves.

Embracing the journey allows for personal growth and learning from both successes and challenges.

Practicing self-compassion and acceptance can promote emotional well-being, reduce self-judgment, and provide the strength needed to face the complexities of living with chronic illness in recovery.



Living with a chronic illness while in addiction recovery can present unique and difficult challenges, but it’s important to know that you’re not alone.

By holistically caring for yourself, building a strong support system, and practicing resilience and self-compassion, you can overcome these challenges with strength and determination.

Even small steps toward healing and recovery are worth celebrating.

If you’re struggling in silence, know that hope and help are available.

Reach out to others, share your experiences, and don’t hesitate to seek support.

You deserve love, care, and a fulfilling life, and there are people ready to support you on your journey toward healing.

Remember, you have the strength within you to overcome these challenges and embrace hope and resilience in the face of adversity.


If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please get in touch with us at Cornerstone Healing Center for a free and confidential assessment.

Our center, situated in Scottsdale, AZ, offers evidence-based treatment that prioritizes holistic healing, ensuring you can attain long-term recovery. Let us help you today!



[1] Prevalence of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults, 2018

[2] Chronic Lyme Disease

[3] Lady Gaga’s New Netflix Documentary Is a Rallying Cry to Those Who Suffer From Chronic Pain

[4] The Impact of Stigma in Healthcare on People Living with Chronic Illnesses

[5] A Narrative Approach to Healing Chronic Illness


Contributor: Julie Miller

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Author & Reviewers

julie miller recovery writer and author
Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s treatment facilities in Arizona. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges, he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of conditions.

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