Shifting Perspective – Substance Abuse and Mental Health:

May 1, 2012

OVERCOMING ALCOHOL ABUSE AND DRUG ADDICTION WHILE COPING WITH DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY

When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems, but there are treatments that can help.

With proper treatment, support, and self-help strategies you can overcome alcohol abuse or drug addiction, get the symptoms of depression or anxiety under control, and reclaim your life.

Co-occurring disorders: When substance abuse is complicated by mental health problems

In a dual diagnosis, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other and interact. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse as well. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.

What comes first: Substance abuse or the mental health problem?

Addiction is common in people with mental health problems. But although substance abuse and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are closely linked, one does not directly cause the other.

  • Alcohol or drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, substance abuse causes side effects and in the long run worsens the very symptoms they initially numbed or relieved.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse can increase underlying risk for mental disorders. 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, drug or alcohol abuse may push you over the edge.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of a mental health problem worse. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or trigger new symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and mood stabilizers, making them less effective.

Addiction is common in people with mental health problems

According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

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