People who are in the midst of rebuilding their lives while in addiction recovery face their fair share of challenges. For those who abuse substances and manage a mental health disorder, those challenges can be more pronounced.

What’s more, there is an inextricable link between substance use disorders and mental health issues. Available government data highlight the prevalence of this issue. In a survey published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 8.1 million adults had a substance use disorder (SUD) and any mental illness (AMI) in 2015.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) elaborates on the link between certain mental health disorders and substance abuse:

“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.”

People with anxiety and depression are especially liable to abuse substances to address their conditions. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimated that about 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder had an alcohol or substance use disorder and 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also had an anxiety or mood disorder.

Specialized treatment in the form of dual diagnosis is for those with a substance use issue and a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Why Are Substance Abuse And Mental Health Linked?

Researchers continue to study the complex relationship between addiction and mental health to understand what happens and why. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists reasons why substance abuse and mental illness are inextricably linked.

Mental health disorders can lead people to abuse drugs as an act of self-medication. When people engage in self-medication, they can exacerbate the mental health issue and the substance use problem. What’s more, people in this group are also vulnerable to relapse states NIDA.

Some common mental health disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People with co-occurring conditions will abuse drugs or alcohol to cope with negative situations or to address symptoms of depression or anxiety. Sometimes their substance of choice may lead to sudden changes in mood and bouts of anger, which could result in strained interpersonal relationships and other negative outcomes.

Symptoms Of Common Mental Illnesses Such As Anxiety, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Or Depression Include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Excessive tension or worrying
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sharp increases in energy
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • Racing thoughts or rapid speech
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Numbness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired judgment or impulsivity
  • Restlessness

Using substances to self-medicate makes it harder to determine how the two conditions are related. In some cases, substance abuse masks serious underlying mental health disorders, which means many cases have not been properly diagnosed. People with both conditions also may be in denial about either one or both, which means they are unlikely to seek professional treatment.

Thus, substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand, which also signifies that dual-diagnosis clients must receive care that simultaneously addresses both conditions for them to achieve stability.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains that dual diagnosis is a broad term that covers a variety of conditions and situations. “It can range from someone developing mild depression because of binge drinking, to someone’s symptoms of bipolar disorder becoming more severe when that person abuses heroin during periods of mania.”

Mental Health Disorders And Commonly Abused Substances

It does not matter in what order they occur: a mental health disorder can lead to substance addiction, and substance addiction can induce a mental health disorder. However, people with specific mental health conditions are more prone to abuse certain substances.

According to the ADAA, the following mental health conditions correlate with certain substances of abuse:

Social anxiety disorders: People with this disorder may abuse alcohol to lessen their anxiety around social interactions. However, alcohol can only make the anxiety worse. For people with this disorder who resort to drinking, an alcohol use disorder can develop.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): It is common for PTSD and substance use to occur together. Thus, people with this mental health condition may resort to using alcohol and depressant drugs like marijuana, opioids, or benzodiazepines to ease their symptoms.

However, substances will only worsen PTSD symptoms. ADAA notes that PTSD and substance use are commonly treated together, particularly in dual diagnosis settings, because symptoms from the mental health issue (intrusive thoughts and sleep disturbances) can cause a patient to relapse back into substance abuse.

Panic disorder: Alcohol and certain drugs can trigger panic attacks. Yet, having a panic disorder can cause people to relapse and resume substance abuse. Alcohol abuse commonly starts before or at the same time as panic disorder symptoms state the ADAA.

How Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Is Not Like Traditional Rehab

Substance abuse treatment centers that specialize in dual diagnosis start with addressing a client’s mental condition. Professionals apply an integrated approach of clinical and therapeutic practices to treat the condition(s).

They also address the unique treatment requirements of a client with particular co-occurring disorders, which differ from people who have single disorders. Dual-diagnosis treatment is a more nuanced approach to a complicated set of conditions. It addresses a mental health impairment in a way that a tradition treatment program cannot.

Benefits Of Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Clients in reputable dual-diagnosis programs are taught specific therapies that help them transform their thoughts and behaviors toward substance abuse. They attend counseling and therapy sessions and are administered approved medications to treat co-occurring disorders, if necessary.

Other dual-diagnosis treatment benefits include:

  • Proper diagnosis of underlying mental health disorders. No more guessing about whether there is an underlying condition fueling the substance abuse. You will have the answers you need and access to treatment that can help you address the issue.
  • Time to understand substance abuse. Clients get the time and space they need to recover physically and mentally from a co-occurring disorder. Treatment methods that utilize an integrated care approach can address your specific requirements.
  • Mental health education. This form of education teaches you about the what and why behind your substance abuse. You can then learn to make better decisions in favor of your sobriety. Mental health education also instills healthy coping skills, which can help you understand, identify, and proactively address relapse triggers. You can also learn how to deal with stress and build quality relationships through this module. In addition, clients may attend behavior therapy or counseling sessions to understand their condition better. They can also be prescribed medication under their doctors’ care.
  • A strong network of support. Psychiatric professionals, clinical nurses, peers in recovery, and friends and family can help dual-diagnosis clients stay the course as they seek to improve their condition. They may feel even more encouraged to stick with treatment by working with people who understand mental health care needs and how they affect those with a substance use disorder.

Before it can be determined whether a dual diagnosis is present, a mental health professional must carefully evaluate the individual’s condition according to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If a diagnosis is present, then people who meet the criteria may be eligible to receive treatment at a center that offers this kind of specialized care.

Let Us Help You Find Your Path To Recovery Today

If you have an addiction and mental health disorder, you can use your time in recovery to focus on both at a center that offers dual diagnosis treatment. At California Highlands, we know how tough alcohol withdrawal can be. We view detox as a critical part of recovery from substance abuse and addiction.

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