Co-Occurring Mental Health Treatment

Mental health issues and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Dealing with one of these conditions is difficult enough but living with both can be absolutely exhausting. It’s no wonder that so few people who experience these illnesses have trouble finding the help they desperately need. However, both substance abuse and mental illness can be highly treatable if the right approach is taken. Read on to learn about these two conditions and what kind of help is available. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues

Substance abuse and mental health issues often co-occur. This is also known as comorbidity. Sometimes, a person experiences a mental illness and seeks to treat their symptoms with drugs or alcohol. These substances can provide temporary relief from sadness and worry and serve as an escape from the problems of a stressful life. However, over time, the person may find that they need to use more and more of the drug or may choose to use the drug instead of engaging in more healthy and productive activities. And sometimes, the long-term use of drugs and alcohol can worsen mental illness.

On the other hand, sometimes, substance abuse can be the catalyst for mental illness. Using certain drugs can cause underlying mental illnesses to come to the surface. If a person is at risk for mental illness due to genetics, brain chemistry, or their environment, drug abuse may push them over the edge. Though it’s difficult to say if substance abuse directly leads to mental illness, there are many factors at play. Initial research points to opioid use leading to depression, and heavy marijuana users, especially younger users, may be at a greater risk for schizophrenia. 

Finally, it’s important to recognize that drugs or alcohol can interfere with mental health treatment. Sometimes, substance use can hinder the effectiveness of medications used to treat mental illness. Because these two conditions often go hand in hand, it’s essential to treat both effectively. It’s likely that those with mental health issues won’t get better if their substance abuse isn’t treated, and those with seeking treatment for substance abuse won’t see positive results until their mental health conditions are addressed.  

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How Often Do Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues Co-Occur?

It can be difficult to estimate how often substance abuse and mental health issues co-occur because many times, patients seek help for one of these conditions and not the other. However, it’s estimated that close to nine million people suffer from both issues morbidly, but only a tiny fraction of these people seek treatment for both conditions. Some try to find treatment for one condition, but many do not attempt to find help at all.  

One reason people may refuse to seek treatment is that there is a stigma surrounding both mental health issues and drug abuse problems. People may feel embarrassed that their behavior has gotten out of control, or they may feel ashamed that they can’t get their lives together on their own. Some people still believe that people suffering from depression or anxiety can just choose to “snap out of it,” or that those with substance abuse issues have the power to stop on their own. The truth is, addiction, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are all legitimate health conditions that need to be treated by a medical professional. It’s alarming that people who experience these illnesses comorbidly don’t seek treatment, because it’s an uphill battle to get better on their own.

Here are some of the most common mental health conditions that co-occur with substance abuse:

  • ADHD-ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by impulsive behavior and trouble regulating emotions. Sometimes, people with ADHD are unable to see the consequences of repeated drug use or have trouble controlling their use. 
  • BPD: Borderline Personality Disorder-People with borderline personality disorder frequently experience extreme emotional pain and feelings of abandonment. This is why the majority of people with BPD turn to drugs to cope.
  • Bipolar Disorder-Individuals with bipolar disorder experience periods of both mania and depression. During manic episodes, it can be hard to settle down or sleep, and during depressive episodes, it can be difficult to get motivated to do anything. Drugs sometimes seem like the best way to deal with both the highs and lows of this disorder.
  • Depression-Research suggests that nearly a third of people who experience depression use alcohol to deal with their symptoms. But alcohol abuse can make antidepressant medication less effective and can increase suicidal thoughts. 
  • Anxiety-Anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting millions of people every year. Drugs like marijuana and alcohol can slow down anxious thoughts, but can also have serious effects on your judgment and mood. 

How to Find Help

When seeking help for mental illness and substance abuse problems, it’s important to look for comprehensive treatment options that treat both illnesses as part of a whole. It’s likely one won’t get better without treating the other as well. With this said, most of these problems respond quite well to treatment, and recovery is possible.

Some mental health professionals have experience treating substance abuse and comorbid mental illness. These professionals can help determine the root causes of the problems and what treatment options are best. Remember, it’s important to treat the substance abuse issues before trying medications for depression or anxiety, as drugs and alcohol can interfere with their effectiveness. 

For some people, inpatient care is the best choice. This can be in the form of rehab or hospitalization. In both of these settings, medical professionals can help the patient detox from the drug and treat the symptoms of mental illness. If you or someone you love is experiencing co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, getting help as soon as possible is key. In the long run, drugs and alcohol will exacerbate the symptoms of mental disorders.

In some cases, recovery can be a lifelong process, but many people who seek treatment will be able to continue on the path towards a full, healthy, happy, drug-free life. 

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