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The Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse


Mental health is all too common amongst those who are dealing with substance aduse. Many people believe that substances are the cause of mental health issues, but this is not entirely true. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA, 8.9 million people in the United States deal with both mental health and substance abuse issues. Of those 8.9 millions, half (55.8{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997}) do not seek treatment for either disorder.

The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Drug Abuse

Those who are mentally ill are more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. The two issues often go hand in hand. According to SAMHSA, 26.7{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997} of people with mental health issues abused illicit drugs in 2012. In the general public, only 13.2{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997} of people abused drugs.

Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who suffer from mental illness may attempt to self-medicate their symptoms via drug use. When these individuals abuse drugs, they may feel less anxiety, depression, or neuroses, albeit temporarily. When the individual is not high, the symptoms of their mental health issue return – oftentimes stronger than they were before.

Although many studies are ongoing, mental health professionals have determined a few things about addiction and mental health:

  • Undiagnosed mental illness can lead to substance abuse as the person tries to treat the symptoms of the mental condition. Depression, anxiety, paranoia and restlessness are some of the common symptoms that mentally ill addicts are trying to self-medicate.
  • Diagnosed mental illness patients often take medication that has unpleasant side effects. These patients abuse drugs to alleviate those effects. For example, schizophrenia patients take medication for hallucinations that causes depression. The patients often smoke marijuana to deal with the depression.
  • A few drugs can cause mental illness after years of chronic abuse. Drugs such as ecstasy alter chemicals in the brain that control mood and other behaviors. These alterations can lead to depression or anxiety problemsthat the addict treats with other drugs.
  • People who are at risk for mental illness increase that risk when they chronically abuse drugs. Mental health risk factors include genetics, the environment, major life experiences and other things. People who already have high risk factors can be “pushed” into the mental illness by chronic substance abuse.
  • Heavy drug abuse in the adolescent years can lead to mental illness later. Heavy drug abuse can alter the cognitive and social development of teens, two things are formulated during adolescence. When these factors are altered, depression and anxiety disorders can result.

A Co-occurring Condition

Chronic addicts who also have a mental illness are said to have a co-occurring condition, or carry a dual diagnosis. Co-occurring conditions are often very difficult to diagnose. The two conditions are entangled within one another, making it difficult to decipher which condition is causing each symptom.

There are some hard-hitting facts that you should know about co-occurring conditions that may help elucidate a dual diagnosis situation, should one exist.

  • People with mental conditions sometimes use marijuana, cocaine or alcohol to self-medicate. Alcohol is the most common choice.
  • Certain mental conditions are most likely to use abuse substances:
    • Antisocial personality disorders have a 15.5{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997} abuse rate.
    • Bipolar disorder is next at 14.5{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997}.
    • Anxiety disorders have a 4.3{b0b5b9ef73fd628fa0d1a81bc1e25d20d95be86a4f5e4de3216f297d8ab1a997} abuse rate.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs indicates that more than 2 out of 10 veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) concurrently have a substance abuse disorder.
  • Many people with mental disorders are more sensitive to the substances they abuse, potentially compounding the seriousness of their addiction.

It takes a professional treatment facility to properly diagnose these substance abuse disorders. However, you can look for clues to help steer professionals toward the best diagnosis for your condition.

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