The Correlation Between Mental Health and Addiction

Studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest that there is a definite correlation between addiction and mental illness or co-occurring disorders. They report that nearly half of the individuals with mental illness disorder consumed alcohol, used cocaine, or smoked cigarettes on a regular basis. In 2016, less than 7% of adults with substance abuse and mental illness disorder sought help and the care they needed.

In earlier years, traditional substance abuse treatment centers addressed only mild forms of anxiety, mood, depression, and personality disorders. They were ill-equipped to treat individuals with severe mental illness. In regards to mental health facilities, they are well-equipped to handle severe chronic mental illness, but not substance abuse disorders. Fortunately, today, more and more treatment centers are acknowledging the connection between mental health and addiction in order to effectively treat patients.

Is Drug Addiction A Mental Illness?

Addiction is a result of brain changes leading a person to make substance use a priority. As the brain changes occur, the ability to control compulsions decreases dramatically. Compulsive behaviors that are associated with drug abuse are similar to mental illnesses. Many people who are diagnosed with mental illness issues turn to drugs and alcohol at some point. Gender may play a factor as women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and mood disorders, and men are more likely to have an antisocial disorder. In some cases, mental illness disorder may have brought on a substance abuse problem or vice versa. Mental illness and substance abuse disorders have overlapping risk factors including:

  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • Epigenetics
  • Low activity in specific brain circuits

Teens who use drugs are more likely to develop a mental illness disorder or addiction. The prefrontal cortex of an adolescents brain is still growing. Exposing it to alcohol and drugs can cause long-lasting harmful effects.

The Link Between Schizophrenia And Substance Abuse

Research has shown that excessive marijuana use can increase the risk for psychotic disorders including schizophrenia. It’s also documented that there are higher rates of schizophrenia in individuals who use cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and opioids. Those who are already suffering from schizophrenia tend to abuse drugs due to:

  • Side effects from medication
  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Psychosocial issues
  • Neurobiological factors

The most common substances abused by people with schizophrenia are marijuana, alcohol, methamphetamine, and cocaine.

Self Medication

Many people who have mental illness end up abusing substances to self-medicate their symptoms. Some might take Valium or Xanax to relieve their symptoms of panic attacks. Depressed patients tend to turn to marijuana to numb their pain. Most people who suffer from social anxiety drink alcohol to feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, these substances do little to address the underlying mental disorder and usually exacerbate the problem.

Dual Diagnosis

Studies show that dual diagnosis treatment and aftercare programs reduce the risk of relapse. Patients with moderate dual diagnosis disorders showed improvement when their mental health issues were treated at the same time as their substance abuse disorders. Dual diagnosis programs provide care for both mental illness and drug addiction. Most patients suffering from both diseases are more treatment-resistant than those who suffer from only one.

A dual diagnosis treatment facility that treats both concerns will lead to better outcomes. The first step is detoxification to help you feel comfortable and safe during withdrawal. Treatment usually continues at a rehabilitation center where an intake assessment is done. Participation in both individual and group therapy is vital to your success. One-on-one therapy with a therapist or psychiatrist in dual diagnosis programs will address both addiction and mental health. During and after treatment, you should attend AA or NA support group meetings. Experiential and behavioral modification therapies can help manage both disorders.

Facts About Co-Occurring Disorders

Exposure to a traumatic event will increase an individual’s likelihood of developing a co-occurring condition. Many veterans who have PTSD also suffer from substance abuse. Women are more likely to seek help for addiction treatment than men. Some addiction rehab facilities aren’t fully-equipped or qualified to prescribe and administer psychiatric medications. Specific drugs can trigger or cause mental illness symptoms such as depression, delusions, or paranoia. Chronic alcohol and drug use increase the chances of being a victim of rape or assault. When under the influence of drugs, poor decision making is common.

It takes a fully qualified and well-equipped addiction treatment center and dual diagnosis program to accurately diagnose both disorders. More addiction rehab centers are combining substance abuse treatment and mental illness treatment. When looking for a facility, ask if they provide specialized dual diagnosis care. You want to ensure that they approach treating substance and abuse and mental illness at the same time. Finding the best facility that feels right to you is of the utmost importance.