Substance Abuse and Mental Health: How Are They Connected?

Lonely person in a crowd.

When a person is struggling with a substance abuse disorder and, at the same time suffering from a mental health condition, this situation commonly takes the name of either “dual diagnosis” or “co-occurring disorder.”

Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can make it extremely harder to deal with drug addiction; therefore, if an individual is going through a dual problem, their condition shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In co-occurring disorders, the symptoms of mental illness the patient might be showing are most likely going to be different from the symptoms an addiction causes. For this reason, being able to maintain a normal and stable life becomes close to impossible.

Moreover, these disorders affect one another, meaning that if a mental problem isn’t treated, the addiction is going to get worse and vice versa.

If you’re wondering how many people suffer from mental illness, then you should know that, in 2018, 19.1% of American adults had at least one mental health problem, and 50% of that number also experienced a substance abuse problem.

From this data, we can see this problem affects a large number of people; therefore, in this article, we’ll take a look at the connection between mental health and substance abuse to try to better understand how co-occurring disorders work.

Addiction and Mental Issues: What Comes First?

These two conditions are strongly connected to each other; however, even though abusing drugs or alcohol can cause psychotic reactions, we cannot exactly say that addiction leads to having mental health problems.

What we can actually see is that consuming alcohol and drugs can potentially increase the risk of developing mental issues, especially if you already have a history of mental problems in your family.

It’s also important to know that, based on the kind of substance an individual abuses, they can develop different kinds of mental health issues. For instance, painkillers increase the risk of depression, while marijuana might increase the chance of weed psychosis symptoms.

Besides increasing a person’s chances to develop a mental condition, drugs can also worsen the symptoms linked to a mental health problem as well as triggering new symptoms.

Although we’ve seen that addiction doesn’t lead to mental problems, oftentimes, alcohol and drugs are mistakenly used as mental health medications by the patients in an attempt to ease the mental problem’s symptoms.

Do You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Diagnosing a co-occurring disorder takes time, and it’s not an easy process, especially because the symptoms and the signs of the condition can vary depending on not only the mental health problem but also on the drug the person is taking.

Rregardless of this, there are a few general signs to look out for that can potentially tell you if you’re experiencing co-occurring disorders:

  • Using drugs to deal with painful memories, feelings, unpleasant situations, or to control your mood.
  • Depression and substance abuse can be linked; do you get depressed when you use drugs?
  • Feeling anxious when you’re sober.
  • Having a history of mental health problems.

Keep in mind that people who are experiencing dual diagnosis are often in denial, and they refuse to admit how much drugs or alcohol are affecting their lives. Denial is also frequent in mental disorders; therefore, if you notice somebody close to you is going through this problem, you should try to convince them to get help as soon as possible.

Moreover, the NIH website can provide additional information on the reasons why substance abuse and mental issues often occur together.

What is Dual Diagnosis and How Are Substance Abuse and Mental Issues Treated?

Dual diagnosis is a condition where a person suffers from both a substance abuse problem and a mental health problem. The best way to treat the condition is by contacting a center for mental health and addiction that can offer an integrated approach to simultaneously treat both disorders.

Mental health treatment can include individual or group counseling, changes in one’s lifestyle, medications, and support from people experiencing a similar condition.

Substance abuse treatment requires going through a detox process, managing the symptoms of withdrawal, attending support group meetings, and maintain the sobriety.

Regardless of which problem an individual manifested first, to achieve a complete and successful recovery, it’s important to treat both conditions at the same time and with the same treatment provider.