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What Is The Connection Between Mental Health And Addiction?

Understanding Mental Illnesses

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a mental illness is a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that causes serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

Mental disorders can also sometimes be called psychiatric disorders, and nearly one in five Americans suffer from some kind of mental health problem. While major depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses among Americans, the category also includes more complex and frequently more disabling conditions, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Though it is unusual for an exact “cause” to be pinned down for most mental illnesses, research suggests that both genetic vulnerability and environmental factors tend to serve as risk factors that play a part in the development of any given mental health issue.

Some mental illnesses, like post-traumatic stress disorder, are clearly and directly associated with specific experiences, while other mental illnesses are more linked to familial background, with heritability rates for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as high as eighty percent.

Why Addictions Are Qualified As Mental Health Disorders

Though it may be harder to conceptualize someone who has trouble controlling their drug abuse as mentally ill than someone who is hearing voices or suffering panic attacks, over time, it has become clearer and clearer to professionals in the mental health treatment field that drug addiction is a legitimate mental illness.

According to the Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report published by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, (the drug abuse website presided over by the US Government), repeated drug use can cause changes to the same brain areas that are implicated in the development of other mental health problems.

While it is unclear to what degree these changes are caused by drug abuse versus whether they simply put people at greater risk, the results of such studies suggest that people who suffer from substance use disorders suffer from biologically based problems with impulse control that to some degree explain their inability to manage their drug and alcohol abuse on their own.

Why Addiction And Mental Illness Often Co Occur

Along with addiction being a mental health condition in and of itself, it’s also important to be aware of how often both an addiction and other mental illnesses can occur in the same individual, a phenomenon that can be referred to as co-occurring disorders, dual diagnoses, or comorbid disorders.

In fact, mental health conditions are such a major risk factor for substance use disorders that, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, over half of the people who suffer from a mental illness will also suffer from a substance use disorder at some point during their life.

The reverse is also true, with over half of people who suffer from mental illness suffering from substance use disorders at some point as well. This suggests that the correlation may go both ways, with each factor putting one at increased risk for the other.

Part of this correlation is also thought to be due to the fact that both mental health issues and substance use disorders share certain risk factors, such as the experience of trauma and other life stressors. Some people with mental health issues also develop substance use disorders because they begin to rely on substance abuse to cope with the symptoms of their mental health issues.

This type of drug use is known as self-medication. For example, people with addiction and mental illness, and particularly depression, sometimes report that they abuse alcohol or drugs in order to elevate their mood or to better tolerate stressful situations. Unfortunately, drug use may in fact work for short periods of time to relieve the symptoms of mental health issues.

But, in the end, attempts to self-medicate usually exacerbate symptoms of mental illness in the long run as the brain chemistry becomes more unstable due to frequent drug use, which may also trigger the development of a mental illness in someone who already had an underlying vulnerability to one. Specifically, one study showed that frequent marijuana use in people who had a particular gene variant put them at increased risk for one disorder in particular: schizophrenia.

The issues caused by someone’s substance use may also worsen mental health as the consequences of their substance abuse begin to worsen their quality of life as damage to their professional and personal life begins to accrue.

As changes to the central nervous system caused by substance abuse begin to set in, it also may become more difficult for the person dealing with co occurring disorders to feel “normal” without taking the drug. The person dealing with a mental disorder may then begin to abuse drugs to “self medicate” not only the symptoms of their co occurring disorder but symptoms related to withdrawal from the addictive substances involved in their substance use disorder.

Treatment Program For Addiction And Related Mental Disorders At Reco Intensive

Though dual diagnosis treatment can be more complex than treatment for substance abuse and mental illness when the conditions are addressed independently, many people who abuse substances and suffer from a mental health problem are eventually able to achieve full recovery if they receive effective treatment.

Treatment for a substance abuse problem that is complicated by other mental disorders always involves treatment for the underlying mental health disorder as well as the substance use itself. For some co occurring disorders, this may involve the use of medication; studies have shown that patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at lower risk for a substance abuse problem when they are taking appropriate ADHD medications that make the symptoms of their mental illness easier to deal with.

Therapy is also an important part of treatment for co occurring mental illness and substance abuse. By teaching patients to better manage stress, reframe negative thoughts, and cope with past trauma, therapy can help patients to deal with the symptoms caused by mental illness and substance abuse alike.

In integrated treatment programs like the one offered at Reco Intensive, each patient is assessed as a unique individual and provided with a personalized treatment plan designed to address both mental illness and substance abuse symptoms. If you or someone in your life is currently dealing with mental illness while considering substance abuse treatment, you can learn more about our program by calling 844.955.3042 or contacting us online here. We can’t wait to help you find your way back to a brighter future.

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