Health and Fitness

Mental Health and Substance Use: What You Should Know

Did you know that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental health disorder in a given year? That means more than 43 million people are living with mental illness. And yet, despite these staggering numbers, mental health remains a taboo topic. Too many people still feel ashamed to talk about their struggles or don’t know where to go for help.

This is why it’s so important for us to learn more about mental health and substance use—to break down the barriers that keep people from getting the help they need and deserve. In this article, we’ll discuss what you should know about the relationship between mental health and substance use.

The Best Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders Involves Integrated Care

If someone is struggling with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, they must treat both conditions simultaneously. This integrated approach is the most effective form of treatment for these conditions.

Integrated care typically includes therapy, support groups, and medication management. It is essential to work with professionals who specialize in treating co-occurring disorders and understand their unique challenges. And remember: recovery is possible. With the proper support and treatment from a dual diagnosis treatment center, it is possible to manage mental health and substance use disorders and live a fulfilling life. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that individuals with co-occurring disorders can experience the same success rates in recovery as those who only struggle with one disorder.

Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness Often Occur Simultaneously

It’s common for people with a mental illness to also struggle with substance use. NIDA reports that about half of those with a substance use disorder also have a mental illness. The reverse is also true; approximately one-third of individuals with a mental illness will struggle with a substance use disorder in their lifetime.

There are several reasons why co-occurring disorders often occur together. One key factor is that changes in the brain’s chemistry can cause both conditions. For example, alcohol abuse can cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to depression or anxiety. And prescription drug abuse can cause changes in the brain that lead to psychotic symptoms. People may also self-medicate their symptoms using substances, or the effects of substance abuse can trigger or worsen specific mental health symptoms. It’s important to understand the connection between these conditions and seek integrated treatment if necessary.

Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders Have Similar Symptoms

Mental illness and substance use disorders can both cause changes in a person’s mood, thoughts, and behavior. The two conditions often occur together, as about 50% of people with a mental illness also have a substance use disorder. And vice versa—about 50% of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental illness.

There are many similarities between these two conditions, but some of the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Mood Changes: People with mental illness or a substance use disorder may experience changes in their mood, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, or agitation.
  • Thought Changes: People with mental illness or a substance use disorder may experience changes in their thinking process, such as hallucinations or delusions for those with mental illness, cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior for those with a substance use disorder
  • Behavioral Changes: People with mental illness or a substance use disorder may exhibit changes in their behavior, such as social withdrawal, increased aggression, or risky sexual behavior.

It’s important to remember that not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and the presence or absence of specific symptoms does not determine whether a person has a mental illness or substance use disorder. The only way to accurately diagnose these conditions is through assessment by a professional, who can create a personalized treatment plan for each individual.

Substance Use Can Worsen Mental Health Symptoms

Substance use can temporarily numb mental illness symptoms, leading some individuals to self-medicate. Unfortunately, this can worsen their symptoms in the long term and increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Additionally, certain substances can harm the brain and trigger or exacerbate mental health issues. For example, marijuana use has been linked to an increased risk of psychosis in individuals with a family history of schizophrenia. And stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines can induce paranoid thoughts and even psychotic breaks.

It’s vital for those struggling with mental health issues to avoid using substances as a coping mechanism—true healing comes from seeking professional help and treating the underlying issues.

Mental Health Disorders Can Cause Substance Use Disorders and Vice Versa

While substances can cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to mental health disorders, it’s also possible for mental illness to play a role in substance use disorders. For example, people with bipolar disorder may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their symptoms. Or people with anxiety disorders may use cigarettes or caffeine as a way to calm down and relax.

In some cases, a mental illness may also increase someone’s vulnerability to substance use disorders. People with mental illness may feel isolated and struggle with low self-esteem, making them more likely to turn to substances as a means of coping. And those with certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or sensation-seeking behavior, may be at an increased risk for developing substance use disorders.

Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Can Have Common Risk Factors

Mental disorders and substance abuse can have common risk factors. People with mental health conditions are more likely to develop a substance use disorder, and people who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to create a mental health condition.

Both mental health conditions and substance use disorders can be caused by genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Some of the most common risk factors for both diseases include:

  • Exposure to trauma or violence
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Family history of mental health conditions or substance abuse
  • Poor social support
  • Poverty or low socioeconomic status
  • Homelessness or unstable housing situation
  • Lack of access to quality healthcare
  • Limited education or employment opportunities

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or a mental health disorder, it’s essential to seek help as soon as possible. Don’t let fear or shame prevent you from getting the treatment you need and deserve. Many resources are available, such as therapy, support groups, medication, and residential treatment programs. Remember—you are not alone in this journey toward recovery.

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