Mental health issues and addiction affect people from all walks of life. Though both conditions are driven by a number of factors, as scientists have advanced their understanding of the brain they have discovered that there is an undeniable link between the two. Despite the differences in how either condition presents itself, mental health and substance abuse are undeniably linked. However, it is much more complicated than one condition causing the other. Understanding the connection between mental health and addiction can spur people to get treatment sooner rather than later.
An untreated mental health disorder can compel a person to drink or use drugs, and conversely, drug and alcohol use can be detrimental to mental health. There is no question that the two conditions share risk factors, and it is common for one to precede the other. When someone experiences both a mental health issue and an addiction at the same time, it is called a dual diagnosis, and these types of co-occurring disorders are best treated with dual diagnosis treatment. Going through recovery for one disorder is already difficult, and treating two or more can be even more complex and involved. Professional treatment is the best course of action in order for a patient to experience successful recovery.
Do Mental Health Issues Cause Addiction?
Individuals who are struggling with a mental health issue are at greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. However, not all people who have mental health problems will turn to drugs or alcohol and become addicted, so perhaps it is not exactly correct to say that mental health issues cause addiction. Instead, it is more accurate that mental health issues are a risk factor for developing substance use disorders.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction
A common hypothesis is that individuals who have severe, mild, or even undiagnosed mental health disorders may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication, as the pleasurable feelings of intoxication may give them relief. While substance use may temporarily reduce or eliminate the symptoms of a mental health issue, it is much more common for symptoms to worsen with long-term substance use. Continued lack of treatment and addiction to substances can change the way a person’s brain works, to the point where decision-making, motivation, and reward mechanisms are altered.
Both mental health and substance use disorders can impact a person’s mood, which can worsen symptoms and can cause mental distress or increased substance use. There are also risk factors that are common to both conditions:
- Genetics – People with relatives who have either mental health issues or substance use disorders are more likely to develop the same disorder.
- Traumatic events – The trauma associated with grief, abuse, or neglect can cause the development of poor coping mechanisms, which in turn can cause mental health issues or addiction.
- Environmental factors – A person’s community and family support system can have a large impact on whether they are exposed to substance use and the amount of stress they will experience.
- Neurological factors – Factors such as brain maturity and neurotransmitter function can impact whether or not a person develops mental health issues or addiction.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
- Depression – Substance use can impair motivation, making depression even more debilitating for a patient. Depression treatment and substance abuse treatment are best administered together in a program that integrates mental health and recovery services at the same facility.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This anxiety disorder has a high risk for addiction. Both PTSD treatment and substance abuse treatment must occur at the same time, as substance abuse can lead to re-traumatization or the worsening of PTSD symptoms.
- Bipolar disorder – The periods of depression and extreme mania associated with bipolar disorder can cause a person to seek a form of control over their emotions, often in the form of substance use.
Get Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
If you or someone you love is struggling with co-occurring disorders, help is available at many treatment centers. The best treatment for a dual diagnosis is an integrated approach wherein the substance abuse disorder and the mental health issue are addressed at the same time. It can take a great deal of effort to untangle where each disorder begins and ends, and treatment is often complex.
Long-term recovery depends on getting treatment for both disorders at the same treatment provider, as well as the patient’s commitment to the treatment plan. However, even though it may be difficult, recovery is definitely possible.