Mental health conditions and substance use disorders are common challenges that can affect people from nearly every walk of life. Even though both conditions originate in the brain, mental health and substance abuse disorders are two entirely different challenges — but they often are connected to each other.
Living with a mental health disorder can compel you to drink or use drugs. At the same time, misusing drugs and alcohol can interfere with the health of your mind and make you more likely to develop a mental health condition. In fact, more than 1 in 4 adults in America living with a mental health condition also has a substance abuse problem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that a total of nearly 9 million people live with a mental health condition and substance abuse disorder at the same time. Here’s what you need to know about how the two conditions are connected and how they’re treated.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction
For years, doctors and researchers have debated whether substance abuse causes or is a symptom of a mental health disorder. Even though recent technology has broadened the amount of data scientists have access to, the answer remains unclear. Most scientists agree that the connection between mental health and substance use disorders is much more complicated than one condition causing the other, but they do see a connection.
Here’s what they know.
1. Untreated Mental Health Disorders Can Increase The Risk of Substance Abuse
Many people who live with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol to temporarily relieve or escape their symptoms. This is a form of self-medication, attempting to “treat” challenges or make difficult situations better by indulging in substances that provide temporary relief.
Self-medication can look different for everyone, but common signs include:
- Turning to substances like drugs or alcohol when you feel anxious, depressed, or stressed
- Increasing your alcohol consumption or using more drugs after experiencing a triggering event or situation
- Needing to self-medicate more often to experience relief
- Feeling worse after drinking or getting high
Even though self-medication can provide short-term relief, this pattern of behavior ultimately leads to further substance abuse. Using drugs and alcohol as a way to manage a challenging or difficult situation can:
- Make symptoms worse. Instead of making life “easier,” using drugs and alcohol can cause physical, emotional, social, financial, and legal problems.
- Trigger new mental health challenges. Some drugs can lead to the development of new mental health challenges. Opioids and alcohol, for example, can cause depression and marijuana can lead to psychosis, hallucinations, and paranoia. Cocaine and other stimulants can increase the risk of attention deficit disorder and anxiety disorders.
- Prevent you from getting the help you need. Self-medicating can make you wrongly assume that you’re fixing your mental health disorder. The reality is that self-medication can only provide temporary relief. This means that, eventually, the original problem resurfaces, which can trap you in a dangerous, destructive cycle.
2. Substance Abuse Can Trigger Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Conditions
Not everyone who abuses drugs or alcohol will develop a mental health disorder. However, you might be predisposed to a certain mental disorder and not know it. If this is the case, using drugs or alcohol can trigger the development of that disorder. Even though eliminating drugs and alcohol from your system will help, the chronic use of some drugs can lead to both short and long-term changes in the brain. These changes can lead to a wide range of mental health issues including paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and delusions.
Drugs that are known to trigger mental health disorders include:
- Prescription drugs
3. Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Have Some of The Same Risk Factors
Research shows that addiction and mental health challenges can be caused by the same underlying changes in the brain. This means that mental health and substance use disorders can have some of the same risk factors, including:
- Early exposure to trauma. Experiencing trauma at a young age can increase your risk of developing an addiction and a mental health disorder. This is true because of the way trauma changes the brain. Early exposure to trauma can make the brain hypersensitive and overly reactive, which can cause anxiety and mood disorders. The same trauma can also cause individuals to seek perpetual comfort, leading to self-medication.
- Environmental factors. The environment you grew up and live in can affect the way your brain functions. High-stress environments can shrink the brain’s prefrontal cortex and increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more sensitive to stress. This alone can make you more susceptible to excessive substance use and mood disorders. Other environmental factors such as relationship strife, significant loss, age, abuse, and certain medications can work the same way.
4. Substance Abuse Disorders Can Share Common Symptoms With Some Mental Health Disorders
When individuals abuse substances or live with mental health conditions, the brain changes. These changes can make the brain more susceptible to certain symptoms. Because of this, many people experience symptoms that are associated with substance abuse and mental health challenges.
Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, for example, can trigger symptoms of depression. Abusing these substances can make you feel lethargic, sad, and hopeless. Stimulants like cocaine can trigger psychosis which has symptoms commonly present in schizophrenia. These symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.
When the symptoms of substance abuse and mental health disorders are the same, behavioral health experts may have difficulty separating the consequences of substance use from the possible effects of mental health challenges. Luckily, there are specific programs available that are designed to treat both conditions simultaneously.
Expert Care That Works To Heal The Brain
Here at StoneRidge and Pronghorn, we know that mental health conditions and substance use disorders originate in the brain. That’s why we pride ourselves on offering a wide variety of treatment programs that help heal the brain.
- Our addiction treatment program can help you overcome substance abuse challenges.
- Our mental health program can help you manage depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, and other similar conditions in a healthy, non-self- medicating way.
- Our dual diagnosis program can treat addiction and mental health conditions simultaneously.
Let us help you thrive. Contact us today to begin or continue your journey to better mental, physical, and holistic health.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.