The Link Between Mental Health and Addiction

There is a clear relationship between mental health and addiction because people who use drugs are attempting to make themselves feel better or not to feel at all. Similarly, mental health diagnoses typically make people feel less than adequate. Therefore, since both disorders cause negative emotions and uncomfortable states of mind- they can easily be either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. People who struggle with substance use disorder often have undiagnosed mental health disorders. The two conditions are so closely related that many substance abuse treatment professionals can easily say nearly all people who abuse substances are likely to suffer from a mental or emotional disorder.

Two journals that study the causes and effects of addiction and or mental health conditions, Social Work in Public Health and Clinical Neuropharmacology, have published research on the prevalence of the two disorders co-occurring. This is referred to as comorbidity. Comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional conditions often co-occurring and can be physiological or psychological. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently published the research from these two leading journals about comorbidity also referred to as a dual diagnosis.

Many individuals who develop substance use disorders (SUD) are also diagnosed with mental disorders and vice versa. Multiple national population surveys have found that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. Data show high rates of comorbid substance use disorders and anxiety disorders—which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance use disorders also co-occur at high prevalence with mental disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. (NIDA)

The Link Between Mental Health and Addiction

How Addiction Recovery and Anxiety Are Related

Many people in recovery are usually aware that they are predisposed to anxiety, depression, anger, or another adverse emotional or mental health reaction—for example, many people who use alcohol drink so they can feel more relaxed and less anxious. Similarly, the person who uses stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine does so to feel more energetic and possibly less depressed. Strong negative emotions and or unhealthy mental states can push a person first to try substances to feel better. If they are successful, then they will usually use them again.

Addiction occurs when a person becomes reliant on a substance to make them feel better repeatedly. At this juncture, the drug or drink becomes a priority. The awareness of their negative emotions or mental health struggles becomes secondary. Many people lose the ability to recognize that they are depressed or anxious or angry any longer. Their focus has become on getting and using the drug or drinking alcohol. Addiction and mental health disorders also exasperate one another. In time the person who drank or drugged to feel less tense now has more trouble relaxing altogether because his or her brain relies chemically and neurologically on the substance to do it for them.

More About Substance Abuse and Mental Health

A person who drinks or drugs regularly forms mostly permanent neural pathways that get stuck in a sense, and without the presence of a substance, this individual cannot feel pleasure. The National Center for Biotechnology advances in science and health describe how the brain is negatively affected by using substances addictively:

The progression of drug addiction involves alterations in normal brain circuitry that result in long-lasting drug-induced neuroplastic changes. Several brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and others underlie the pathological changes within the normal functioning of the brain. Acute and/or chronic exposure to abused substances engages and/or pathologically alters distinct brain circuits. (NCBI)

Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment

The programs that are available today rely on evidence-based forms of therapy and treatment that focus on helping individuals uncover an unknown mental health diagnosis and provide the most effective treatments for an existing one. To learn about programs we have for addiction that target underlying mental health diagnoses, please connect to one of our dual diagnosis treatment coordinators.

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