Mental illness is common amongst a population suffering from substance abuse and addiction. The relationship is so strong that many people believe the drugs play a causative role in the development of the mental illness. In most instances, this is not the case.
In the United States, approximately 8.9 million people have both a mental health and a substance abuse issue. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) tells us that, of these people struggling with dual disorders, the majority—55.8%— don’t receive any treatment for either disorder. A mere 7.4% get treatment for both issues.
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% of people with mental health issues abused illicit drugs in 2012. In the general public, only 13.2% 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.
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 problems that 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. There are other theories on the drug and mental health relationship.
The important thing is that the work on the effects of mental health on substance abuse (and vice versa) has led to many advances in the treatment of the patient after a dual diagnosis is made.
The Problem of Chronic Abuse
Those who chronically abuse drugs may be more likely to experience mental health issues as drugs can exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder, or even initiate the onset of a latent disorder . In addition, both substance abuse and mental illness may have hereditary factors at play, making certain individuals more susceptible to both over time.
Experimentation with drugs can be harmful to someone with a mental health issue. However, it is the chronic abuse that has the largest effect on the mental health and drug abuse relationship.
Chronic abuse is the long-term, heavy use of a drug. These are not casual users. Chronic abusers are physically and psychologically addicted to the drugs. These people believe that the drug is needed in order to control their mental health problems. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, a chronic substance abuser has lost control over his drug habit and is economically, socially, and psychologically impacted by the effects of the drug.
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% abuse rate. Bipolar disorder is next at 14.5%. Anxiety disorders have a 4.3% 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.
When a dual diagnosis is at play, it’s imperative that treatment addresses both the mental health issue and the substance abuse. If only one issue is treated, true recovery can’t be achieved; instead, relapse is likely when the symptoms of the untreated disorder flare up.
Comprehensive treatment means intensive one-on-one therapy with a psychiatrist or therapist who has experience dealing with the challenges associated with the mental health issue and addiction. Medication may be utilized to manage certain psychiatric disorders or to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms associated with detox. Behavioral modification therapies and experiential therapies can augment a treatment regime, helping to alter thoughts and behaviors to better manage both disorders.
Treatment facilities today are well-trained in helping patients who have a dual diagnosis. Their first priority is stabilizing the patient in detox. Detox done in a hospital or at the rehab starts the process of removing the drugs from the body and preventing withdrawal symptoms that can be severe depending on the drugs taken. Once the patient is stable enough for treatment, he is moved to the rehabilitation unit.
All patients have to give a mental and physical health history upon intake into the facility. Any mental conditions disclosed at this point are given just as much priority as the addiction. The mental illness and addiction both need treatment in order for the patient to have a successful recovery.
During rehab, all addicts are provided with therapy to help with the psychological symptoms that come with addiction. Oftentimes, addiction specialists and counselors can spot the signs of mental illness or the need for a dual diagnosis. The patient begins seeing a psychiatrist at this time to help with the mental condition. His addiction treatment is also altered a bit to accommodate the new dual diagnosis.
Facilities that do not have dual-diagnosis specialties may send the patient to a mental health facility to continue the recovery process. Many prefer, however, to find an inpatient center that treats dual diagnosis conditions at that facility.