Substance misuse is closely associated with poor mental health. In some cases, one will cause the other. In other cases, there are underlying factors that contribute to the development of both. When we talk about the co-occurrence of mental health conditions and addiction, we refer to it as dual diagnosis.
A person of any age, gender, and background can develop a substance use disorder, likewise, mental health issues can develop at any stage. However, there are some significant points in life where people are at higher risk.
Adolescence can bring a multitude of challenges and changes to manage. At the same time, young people often begin experimenting with alcohol and, sometimes, substances.
Teenagers and young adults are in one of the higher risk categories for developing dual diagnosis conditions.
Additionally, older adults are also at risk of developing problems. Big life changes such as retirement, the death of a loved one, or mental and physical decline can lead people to misuse substances as a means of self-medication.
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If you, or someone you know, is displaying symptoms of mental illness and a substance use disorder, keep reading to understand more about the connections and how you can seek help.
Are Addiction and Mental Health Linked?
When a substance use disorder and mental illness occur together it's referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. This includes mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and psychosis.
Although some symptoms may overlap, mental disorders all have their own set of symptoms that can significantly impact your life. For many people, their school, work, relationships, and physical health may see a severe decline.
Unfortunately, addiction and mental illness can perpetuate one another. If either one goes untreated it can exacerbate or re-establish the other. Most people will see direct impacts when the drug abuse is in a particularly severe phase, and so is the mental disorder, and vice versa.
The good news is, as more research is carried out on these conditions, we develop new and effective methods of treatment. Living with co-existing mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction can be extremely isolating and frightening, but help is available and your future can be brighter.
Causation or Correlation: Mental Health Disorders
Although substance use disorders and mental illnesses are closely associated, they are not always caused by one another. Here we look at some of the links between these conditions.
Self Medication with Illicit Drugs and Alcohol
If a mental health disorder goes untreated, many people turn to substances to reduce their symptoms or manage the difficult emotions that surface. Unfortunately, the symptoms usually come back in a more intense manner once the drugs have worn off. This can cause a cyclical pattern of abusing drugs, coming down, decreasing mental health, and using drugs again to remedy these feelings.
Substances Increase the Risk for Mental Illness
Mental disorders usually develop for a number of reasons so it can be hard to say which factors directly cause conditions such as depression and anxiety. However, it is thought that substance abuse of any kind can contribute to or worsen underlying symptoms. For example, high levels of marijuana use have been linked to psychosis and schizophrenia, and alcohol abuse has been linked to depression.
Substances Increase Symptoms of Mental Disorders
Misusing substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs can increase the symptoms of mental illness. Furthermore, for those who are already in recovery, substances can interact with medications including antidepressants, anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers. This can make people feel hopeless and lead them to use drugs again in an effort to ease their distress.
Typical Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
The kinds of drugs people abuse range from prescription medication, such as painkillers and sleeping pills; to alcohol; to illicit drugs such as heroin, cannabis, and methamphetamines. An addiction to any drug can be extremely debilitating, distressing, and at times life-threatening.
Many people living with a substance use disorder will be in denial about their problem. Answering the questions below can give you a better understanding of whether you are living with a substance use disorder.
If you answer yes to three or more questions it could indicate you have a problem:
- Do you ever feel as though you should reduce your substance use?
- Have you attempted to quit but been unable?
- Do you hide how often you use alcohol or drugs from others?
- Do you need to use more in order to achieve the effects you once did?
- Do you use prescription medication differently from how it was prescribed?
- Have loved ones expressed concern about your drug abuse?
- Do you feel guilty about using alcohol or drugs, but continue to do so?
- Do you behave differently while under the influence, in ways that could risk your own safety or the safety of others?
- Has your drug or alcohol use caused problems at work or school?
- Are you in financial difficulty due to your drug use?
- Have your relationships suffered due to your drug abuse?
Typical Symptoms of Co-occurring Mental Disorders
It is possible to experience any mental health issue at the same time as a substance use disorder, but the most common tend to be depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar, and psychosis. Below we look at some of the most common symptoms of these mental disorders.
Common Signs of Depression
- Continuous very low mood
- Loss of pleasure in things previously enjoyed
- Feelings of helplessness
- Appetite changes - loss of appetite or increased appetite
- Weight changes - weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep changes - under-sleeping or oversleeping
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anger and aggression
- Relationship issues
Common Signs of Anxiety
- Feeling extremely stressed and anxious
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea or lightheadedness
- Tension headaches
- Clamped jaw
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Appetite changes
Common Signs of Bipolar Disorder
- Extreme fluctuations in mood
- Times of intense euphoria
- Times of deep sadness, anger, or rage
- Believing in things that are not close to reality
- Change in sleep - at times sleeping very little
- High amounts of energy
- Talking very quickly, sometimes incoherently
- Loss of impulse control
Common Signs of Psychosis
- Extreme confusion
- Loss of coherence in thought and speech
Other mental illnesses which may coexist with substance use disorders are PTSD, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis is the name given to the existence and treatment of two mental health conditions. When somebody is experiencing more than one mental illness it can be difficult to distinguish between them and treat them accordingly. As we have discussed, there are a number of ways two conditions can be linked.
Some people use substances to cope with difficult feelings and emotions associated with their mental disorder or to numb difficult and traumatic memories.
If you recognize that you turn to substances in times of depression and anxiety, this could indicate you have co-occurring disorders.
Alcohol and drug addiction, like mental health problems, can have a genetic component. If somebody in your family has experienced either of these it could put you at greater risk of developing one too.
Common Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis
If you are ready to face your mental disorders and start the road to recovery, help is available. The most effective way to move forwards is by incorporating treatment for both conditions at the same time.
If you treat substance abuse without treating the co-occurring mental disorder, it's possible the symptoms of the mental illness will lead you back to addiction. It doesn't always matter which condition occurred first, or if one caused the other, both must be tackled at the same time.
Entering treatment can sometimes feel intimidating, but our specialist dual diagnosis team are experts in managing these scenarios and they will help you to identify the causes and triggers of your distress.
Every substance abuse and mental health problem is different, depending on your unique circumstances you may find a combination of treatments is effective. Methods of therapy that can be used include:
- Individual talk therapy
- Group therapy
- Healthy lifestyle changes
- Support groups
- Alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, and art therapy
Inpatient or Outpatient?
Mental health and substance abuse treatment can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. However, in cases of dual diagnosis, it is strongly recommended to recover in a residential setting.
Inpatient facilities can offer a safe, secure environment for recovery. In a residential setting the triggering places, people, and activities are removed and you can focus fully on your treatment. Staying within a rehab center enables you to immerse yourself in the program, with round-the-clock care and support.
Removing the temptation of any substances means you can start to practice healthy lifestyle choices, such as:
- Eating a balanced nutritious diet
- Spending time in the fresh air
- Enjoying gentle exercise
- Focussing on yourself and your own mental health
- Joining in discussions and support sessions
- Getting into a good sleep routine
Choosing outpatient treatment may be more convenient for some people, but it can sometimes bring increased risks. Outside of the treatment center, you are vulnerable to many triggering events which may lead you back to substance abuse.
Outpatient treatment is advisable for people who have a very strong support network around them at home. Sometimes this option is beneficial for young people who still live in their family home as they can continue being supported by their loved ones.
Choosing a Treatment Provider
If you are ready to choose a treatment program, seek support from a trusted doctor or friend. Every center is likely to offer different approaches and facilities, and it's important the one you choose reflects your needs.
Be sure that the treatment center you choose is fully licensed, uses research-backed treatment, and offers comprehensive relapse-prevention aftercare.
Most people with both substance abuse and mental health problems will start with a comprehensive detox. This is where the body is rid of drugs and toxins, enabling you to start working on the psychological elements of substance abuse and mental illness.
Depending on your situation, you may be offered a number of therapies. Often people find a combination of therapies to be an effective approach as each therapy can complement the other. Although treatment will vary between facilities be sure that you choose one that:
- Effectively treats dual-diagnosis clients
- Specializes in the mental health condition you are living with, for example, some facilities specialize in PTSD and others in eating disorders. It will not benefit you to receive treatment where they don't fully understand your disorder.
- Consults you in the decision-making process around your recovery progress
- Offers education on substance abuse prevention
- Supports you to learn healthier coping strategies which you can employ when you leave the facility.
Cornerstone Treatment Center
At Cornerstone our mission is to provide a safe and secure environment for you to begin your journey. We tailor all of our treatment programs to your specific needs and circumstances because we truly believe recovery is a unique process.
We care about your story and we aim to help you understand the links between substance misuse and mental illness. Our specialists are trained in dual diagnosis and a range of treatment options including:
- Medically supervised detox
- Inpatient rehabilitation
- Relapse prevention
- Individual and group therapy
- Educational seminars
- 12-step program support groups
- Managing withdrawal symptoms
If you want to find out more about our treatment options, visit our website or call us on 800-233-9999. We can provide a free consultation so you know this is the right center for you before you commit. Get in touch with us today.