Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders experience some form of substance abuse. Furthermore, nearly 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
When an individual suffers from drug addiction and mental illness—such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety—it is called co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) elaborates, “According to a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million people in the United States experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously. More than half of those people—4.1 million to be exact—are men.”
According to NAMI, the symptoms of dual diagnosis vary quite widely, depending on the specific mental disorder and the severity and type of substance abuse. However, symptoms of mental disorder and substance abuse to share some common threads. Symptoms of substance use disorder may include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Using substances under dangerous conditions
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Loss of control over use of substances
- Developing a high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
- Feeling like you need a drug to be able to function
Symptoms of a mental health disorder can also include extreme mood changes, problems concentrating, avoiding friends and social activities, and thoughts of suicide.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
According to the HelpGuide website, “Drug addiction and mental illness such as depression and anxiety are closely linked, and while some substance abuse can cause prolonged psychotic reactions, one does not directly cause the other.”
The website does point out, however, that alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. Alcohol and drug abuse can also increase the underlying risk for mental disorders, as well as worsen the symptoms of underlying mental health problems.
According to the site:
Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. People often abuse alcohol or drugs to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder, to cope with difficult emotions, or to temporarily change their mood. Unfortunately, abusing substances causes side effects and in the long run often worsens the symptoms they initially helped to relieve…
Mental disorders are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other outside factors. If you are at risk for a mental disorder, abusing alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs may push you over the edge. There is some evidence, for example, that certain abusers of marijuana have an increased risk of psychosis while those who abuse opioid painkillers are at greater risk for depression…
Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or even trigger new symptoms. Abuse of alcohol or drugs can also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and mood stabilizers, making them less effective at managing symptoms.
Drug Addiction and Mental Illness: How is Dual Diagnosis Treated?
Current treatment involves addressing both conditions—substance abuse and mental health disorder—simultaneously. Antiquated methods involved treating one at a time, such as addressing mental health issues only after the individual received extensive treatment for substance abuse.
According to NAMI, these are some of the most effective methods for treating dual diagnosis:
Detoxification. The first major hurdle that people with dual diagnosis will have to pass is detoxification. Inpatient detoxification is generally more effective than outpatient for initial sobriety and safety. During inpatient detoxification, trained medical staff monitor a person 24/7 for up to seven days. The staff may administer tapering amounts of the substance or its medical alternative to wean a person off and lessen the effects of withdrawal.
Inpatient Rehabilitation. A person experiencing a mental illness and dangerous/dependent patterns of substance use may benefit from an inpatient rehabilitation center where they can receive medical and mental health care 24/7. These treatment centers provide therapy, support, medication and health services to treat the substance use disorder and its underlying causes.
Supportive Housing, like group homes or sober houses, are places that may help people who are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. These homes provide some support and independence. Sober homes have been criticized for offering varying levels of sober support because licensed professionals do not typically run them. Do your research when selecting a recovery setting.
Psychotherapy is usually a large part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and change ineffective patterns of thinking, which may increase the risk of substance use.
Medications are useful for treating mental illnesses. Certain medications can also help people experiencing substance use disorders ease withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process and promote recovery.
Self-Help and Support Groups. Dealing with a dual diagnosis can feel challenging and isolating. Support groups allow members to share frustrations, celebrate successes, find referrals for specialists, find the best community resources and swap recovery tips. They also provide a space for forming healthy friendships filled with encouragement to stay clean.