Understanding the Link Between Mental Illness and Substance Use

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The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) estimates that over half of adults in the United States who experience a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental illness. Dealing with mental illness isn’t easy, but it’s even more difficult when you have a substance use disorder. Research shows that there is a connection between substance use and mental health disorders. When mental health disorders go untreated, substance abuse issues get worse, and vice versa. To get on the path to recovery, treatment for both disorders is needed.

Which Comes First: Mental Illness or Substance Use?

In many cases, those suffering from mental illness initially may turn to substance use as a form of self-medication. However, alcohol and drug use increase the risk of mental health problems, especially when prescription medication is used. Ultimately, it can be difficult to know which issue manifested itself first.

Diagnosing Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

Diagnosing a co-occurring disorder can be difficult. People with substance use disorders often deny how much drugs or alcohol affect their lives. Some people ignore the symptoms of depression and anxiety, afraid of being labeled as weak. Symptoms vary in each person, depending on the mental health issue and substance being used. Here are some warning signs of a co-occurring disorder:

  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant feelings or moods.
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when you use alcohol or drugs.
  • Having unresolved trauma or a history of abuse.
  • Previous treatment for substance abuse or mental health disorders that failed.
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when you are sober.
  • Family history of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Man speaking to substance use therapist

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

To effectively treat co-occurring disorders, an integrated approach is used. You can’t simply treat substance abuse without addressing the mental health disorders. Long-term recovery involves treating both health issues at the same time. When depression goes untreated, sobriety may be difficult to maintain. Mental health treatment will be more effective if the substance use is also treated.

Recovery for co-occurring conditions is possible, but it takes time and commitment. Mixing prescription medication for mental health disorders with illicit drugs and alcohol can have serious side effects. Therapy and lifestyle changes are easier to make when you aren’t under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

When seeking treatment options for co-occurring disorders, make sure that a program effectively treats both issues. The team at High Focus Centers follows a holistic approach in treating substance use disorders and mental illness. A customized treatment plan is created for each individual client. To learn more, contact our team and see how we may help.

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