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The Connection with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

The Connection with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Author: Justin Mckibben

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results… and many people say that about sums up substance abuse and drug addiction. While trying not to generalize the concept in a smoke-screen of stigma, one can assume that it is pretty insane to repeatedly use dangerous and even lethal narcotic substances at an obsessive and compulsive rate despite all repercussions that come your way, so for most people it probably isn’t difficult to find the connection with mental illness and substance abuse.

The truth is, struggling with a mental illness can feel like you’re trapped, just like an addiction. So dealing with both of them at once can feel like an uphill battle that never ends for those who don’t know how to distinguish one from the other. These walls are built up around you and sometimes feel like they’re closing in, but understanding the connection and finding the right kind of dual diagnosis treatment can help you find a way out.

The Numbers

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) there is a definite connection between mental illness and substance abuse disorders or behaviors. According to NBER statistics, people with mental health disorders are credited with consumption rates like:

  • 38% of alcohol
  • 40% of cigarettes
  • 44% of cocaine

The bureau has also issued reports specifying that people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives account for:

  • 69% of alcohol
  • 68% of cigarettes
  • 84% of cocaine

Simply based on these three substances it is pretty plane to see the connection between mental illness and substance abuse or addiction. With all the different mental health disorders to cross reference with the vast list of illicit drugs that seems to be growing in this country, in the grips of an opiate epidemic, one can only wonder how many different combinations someone could deal with. Each drug has it’s own set of side-effects, and each mental illness has its own set of symptoms, so it could be exceedingly tricky to diagnose one while ignoring the symptoms of the other.

Self-Medicated Substance Abuse

A lot of the time you will hear people who developed an issue with drugs or alcohol use a mental illness as justification for their substance abuse. So often people who suffer from a mental health disorder end up taking drugs or alcohol to combat the discomfort caused by their mental illness without really knowing how much worse it can get.

A lot of people with mental illness and substance abuse problems even start by abusing their medications. People with anxiety disorders will abuse their Xanax, evening mixing it with alcohol to try and numb themselves not realizing they are actually elevating their risks to critical levels.

People with depression might try abusing stimulants to “balance out” but actually just make things worse, and others will take more depressants like alcohol or opiates and just magnify the impact of their mental illness and substance abuse.

These kinds of disorders can feed each other, and the lines between one and the other could become blurred beyond recognition to the individual who is struggling.

One after the Other

Then on the other hand, drug abuse could also help create mental health issues. Excessive drinking and drug use often puts people in risk situations that can expose them to traumatic events, which ultimately can lead to problems such as:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders

One after the other the chemicals in many drugs will have a damaging effect on the biology of the brain after time, altering the balance of chemistry and upsetting a person’s emotional equilibrium.

Why does it matter?

Because of the fact that the symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse can often be mistaken for one or the other it is necessary to understand how to recognize them separately as their own underlying issues and address them as such.

This is extremely important because Dual Diagnosis treatment for both a mental illness and substance abuse issue is vital so that both issues can be addressed at the same time.

Why does it matter?

The untreated symptoms of a mental illness can cause the patient to be unable to remain abstinent, and untreated substance abuse can make mental health treatment ineffective. In essence, treating one and ignoring the other defeats the purpose because they will again feed each other into regression and relapse.

Mental illness, trauma and addiction quite often go hand in hand. The trauma we experience can contribute to the worst of our habits. This is why comprehensive and holistic addiction treatment is huge for those struggling with mental illness and addiction, and why dual diagnosis treatment should be a priority.

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