Mental health and substance abuse are undoubtedly linked. In the past, there was confusion about whether addiction or a mental health condition comes first. The reality of it seems to be that it’s different for everyone. Some people don’t experience mental health symptoms before using drugs, others use drugs to cover up mental health symptoms or it can be a mixture of the two.
Science is giving us a clearer understanding of mental health and substance abuse, so we’re better equipped than ever to help people with both. If you’re struggling with drug addiction, it’s crucial to diagnose and treat any co-occurring mental health issues as well. Otherwise, the uncontrollable feelings associated with poor mental health put you at an increased risk of relapse.
What Is Mental Illness?
Mental illness describes feelings, thoughts, reactions and beliefs that differ from how the majority of people experience them. People who have a mental illness don’t necessarily look different on the outside, and many learn to mask their symptoms, but their brains work differently behind the scenes. This causes some people to start abusing alcohol or drugs in the first place, and those who don’t get treated for a co-occurring disorder are often held back from recovery success.
If you experience trauma, you’re more likely to develop a mental illness. This is because traumatic events are outside the realm of normality for most people in our society. However, the potential must be there in your genes — which is why not everyone who experiences trauma develops a mental health issue. These are the mental illnesses most closely associated with substance abuse:
Anxiety is best described as excessive, inappropriate fear of everyday situations and events. If you struggle with anxiety, abusing substances is appealing because it eases these feelings. Some common symptoms include:
- Feeling on edge constantly
- Focusing on worst-case scenarios
- Nausea, trembling and dizziness
- Racing heart
Depression is a debilitating condition that clouds the judgment of the sufferer and prevents them from getting joy from life. People who are depressed might use stimulants to feel good or depressants to numb the pain. Of course, the overall effect is that these drugs make the depression worse. Some signs of depression are:
- Loss of energy
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Feeling guilty and unworthy
- Unable to experience pleasure
Bipolar disorder I and II are distinct, with the former often leading to hospitalization. Both include manic episodes in combination with episodes of depression. With Bipolar II, people go through hypomanic episodes, which aren’t as extreme. Symptoms of mania include:
- Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs
- Feelings of euphoria or intense irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking fast
Conditions such as schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder also have high rates of comorbid addiction. But what is the relationship between mental health and substance abuse? Read on to find out.
What Is the Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse?
Mental health and substance abuse cross over at specific points, with both drugs and mental illness causing delusions, impaired judgment and physical symptoms. A substance use disorder and a mental health issue can manifest suddenly at the same time, without any actual connection. Causation varies so much between people that it’s impossible to say that one causes the other or vice versa.
Drug and alcohol abuse unquestionably makes mental health problems worse, however. Although it might feel like it helps you in the short term, therapy and psychoeducation can help you to see how misguided that thinking is.
Our mental health is thought to be controlled by electrical connections in the brain. Alcohol and drug abuse tend to cause an influx of these, which feels great at the time but explains why you feel much worse during the comedown. Over time, you can heal your mental health, and therapy can help to retain those electrical connections so they work in your favor.
Serious Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
There’s a striking connection between the most severe forms of mental illness and substance abuse. A serious mental illness is one that prevents you from functioning socially, professionally or interpersonally.
An astounding one in four individuals with a serious mental illness has also suffered from a substance use disorder. This is significantly higher than the one in 10 people without mental illness who have suffered from a SUD.
Is Addiction a Mental Illness?
Addiction appears in the DSM 5, which is the American medical journal dedicated to mental health disorders. People used to think that addictive behavior was the result of poor choices, but science seems to suggest otherwise. A mixture of genetic and environmental factors makes certain people more susceptible to the disease than others, which disproves any moral theories of addictions.
Young People, Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Drug and alcohol dependence can start at any point in life but often begin in adolescence. Adolescents are more prone to mental health issues and, while their brains are still developing, they’re particularly at risk of addiction.
Research has shown that people who start any harmful addictive behavior in their teenage years — smoking, drinking, marijuana — are far more likely to struggle with addiction in later life. This was previously known as the gateway effect — which doesn’t go far enough in explaining what actually happens.
When young people use substances habitually, they’re setting up a pattern of behavior that usually requires rehab treatment to break. As such, youngsters’ mental health must be carefully monitored and looked after to give them the best chance of future success.
You Can’t Treat Addiction Without Addressing Mental Health
When performing the initial assessment for each individual, rehab centers must analyze patients for co-occurring mental health disorders. When illness of this kind goes untreated, it creates impulses, thoughts and feelings that make maintaining recovery extraordinarily challenging.
With the help of experienced professionals, you can untangle your mental health and substance abuse struggles. This leaves you free to gain the skills you need in the present to enjoy the future you want to have.