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Seeking Help for Mental Health Issues When You Have a Substance Abuse Problem

There are many reasons why people use drugs or alcohol and of course, some of the primary ones are to relieve issues of stress, depression, anxiety, and even boredom.  What most people fail to recognize however, is that this is only a temporary fix for what ails them and when repeated, can actually do more damage in the long run.  

According to the Institute of Medicine (US), “Each year, more than 33 million Americans use health care services for their mental problems and illnesses or conditions resulting from their use of alcohol, inappropriate use of prescription medications, or illegal drugs.”  Interactions between these illnesses often worsen the course for both and because of similarly involved regions of brain and its functioning, overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, and environmental triggers, a mental health disorder may be difficult to diagnosis. 

Interplays and Treatment

Self medication is extremely common among substance abuse populations, but, mental health disorders, like addiction, continue to progress and worsen without appropriate help. According to the NIDA, “Although drug use disorders commonly occur with other mental illnesses, this does not mean that one caused the other, even if one appeared first.”  For most substance abusers, mental health issues caused by substance abuse including depression and anxiety often diminish after time in abstinence with the help of counseling, behavioral therapies, and psychosocial support services. 

The best addiction treatment programs integrate services that address both substance abuse and mental health disorders, each in the context of the other, and simultaneously to have the most beneficial outcomes.  When neither illness is treated, one illness can make the other worse.   According to the Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance, “When only one illness is treated, treatment is less likely to be effective. When both illnesses are treated, the chances for a full and lasting recovery are greatly improved, and it is easier to return to a full and productive life.”

Depression and Suicide Facts

Mental Health Issues

Depression and substance use disorders often feed off one another.

According to the CDC, “Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population.” Persistent depression and suicidal behaviors are closely linked to drug and alcohol abuse and vulnerability risks can remain long after addiction treatment ends.  According to a report from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ), “In 2013, an estimated 1.3 million adults aged 18 or older (0.6 percent of the population) attempted suicide in the past year, 2.7 million (1.1 percent) made suicide plans, and 9.3 million (3.9 percent) had serious thoughts of suicide.” 

Even when these disorders are not explicitly linked to the substance abuse disorder itself, they often stem from the consequences including:

    Biological factors such as imbalances in neurotransmitter functions other brain stress and reward system disruptions or damages Environmental stressors such as being homeless, convicted of criminal charges, or unable to find a job and the necessary resources to live a healthy, satisfying, and productive life Failed relationships Loss of job Financial losses Loss of social support or isolation Failed attempts to quit Physical health problems Assaults, or traumatic experiences Fear or resentment of others

The list can go on and on, but, what is important to remember is that treatment works and there is hope.

Mental Health Basics

According to the CDC, researchers indicate that mental health can be represented by three major domains including:

    Emotional well-being – such as perceived life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness. Psychological well-being – such as self-acceptance, personal growth including openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, control of one’s environment, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships. Social well-being – social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of people and society as a whole, personal self-worth and usefulness to society, sense of community.

Some addicts find that their inability to control mood swings, negative ideations or emotions, and stressful events actually requires some sort of psychiatric assistance with medication to help them regulate neurotransmitter functions that have been disrupted or damaged during their substance abuse.  Methadone is a prime example of this with a long history in helping to improve overall physical, psychological, and social wellbeing by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms for long term treatment effectiveness and helping to reinforce the message of hope in opioid addicts who would be less likely to recover on their own.

Dual Diagnosis and the Importance of Treating Co-existing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

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