The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Connection

There is no doubt that mental health and substance abuse are directly connected. What is often questioned is which disorder happened first. Or did they cause one another? The answers to questions like this are not a simple yes or no because there are many factors to consider.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the hidden connection between mental health and substance abuse.

The Connection Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse

What is known for sure is that co-occurring disorders do exist. Those with addictions also have underlying mental illnesses. Those with mental illnesses often use substances to help them cope. If left untreated, a cycle can begin that can keep a person unhealthy for years.

To better understand the connection between mental health and substance abuse, it’s essential to understand their commonalities, some of which are listed below.

The Brain Connection

The brain is a significant factor associated with both mental health and substance abuse. They are both disorders of the brain. Meaning there is a defect, whether with chemical imbalances or damage, that causes a person to become mentally ill, addicted, or both.

For example, if someone has bipolar disorder, the brain’s chemicals are severely imbalanced, and the levels swing from extremely low to high and back to low. Regulating the chemicals can reduce the severity of mood swings. Many people try to control their moods with the use of substances.

Doing so may work for a while but not forever. Over time a person builds a tolerance to the substance and must take more and more of it to receive the same mood regulations effect. By this point, they are in a full-blown addiction.

Another brain factor is that substances, when abused, cause trauma to the brain. Both drugs and alcohol alter the functioning of the brain. So, even if there wasn’t a mental illness before someone started abusing substances, there will be one later due to the damage the substances caused.

The Genetic Connection

Both mental illnesses and addiction can happen due to genetic factors passed down from parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Studies have shown specific genes linked to substance abuse shared by the addict and other family members with addiction.

Similar studies have shown this same genetic connection in those with mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders can run in the family. However, just because you have the gene does not mean you are destined to be an addict or have a mental illness. There are other factors, like lifestyle, that play a role.

The Lifestyle Connection

Unhealthy lifestyles can lead to poor mental and physical health. It can also lead you to make poor choices based on what you have learned from your environment. For instance, if you grew up with drug-addicted parents, you may be more likely to become an addict too.

Or, if you were exposed to childhood traumas like physical or sexual abuse, you may be more likely to develop PTSD and later use drugs or alcohol to try and cope.

The people in your life influence your decisions. If drug users always surround you, there is a higher probability that you will use them. Peer pressure alone is hard to deny.

Suppose you surround yourself with family and friends who are healthy and encourage you to participate in positive activities. In that case, your mental health will be healthier, and you will be less likely to need substances to make you feel better.

With dual-diagnosis or having both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem, there are common symptoms.

The Symptoms Connection

Research someone with a mental illness and research a person with an addiction. You will find common symptoms are connecting the two—symptoms such as losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, feeling hopeless, sleep, and weight changes. Also, symptoms such as loss of energy, the inability to concentrate on anything other than your mental illness or addiction, and changes in your behavior.

You may start isolating yourself, having anger outbursts, a change in hygiene habits, and relationship problems. You may even struggle to perform duties at school, work, and home. Further, both mental illness and substance abuse can cause physical aches and pains.

The way you talk to yourself can be similar to both a mental illness and addiction. You put yourself down, telling yourself a better person could overcome drug abuse or depression without help. Or, if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have let yourself start using drugs or feel anxious.

All these negative thoughts are not true. They are just proof that you need help. Getting help for both mental illness and substance abuse also share a connection.

The Treatment Connection

To successfully recover from a mental health disorder or addiction, you must receive dual-diagnosis treatment.

It is almost impossible to treat one disorder at a time successfully. Instead, they must both be treated at the same time. For example, let’s say you struggle with opioid abuse and severe depression. You attend treatment for your addiction but do not receive help with your depression. Eventually, you will become so depressed that relapsing may seem like a good idea, simply because you are so desperate to feel better mentally.

Or, if you treat your depression but don’t treat your addiction, the depression will not go away. It’s like you have a double dose of unhappiness because your brain can’t produce enough “happy chemicals” to outweigh the depressant effects caused by opioids.

Fortunately, there are dual-diagnosis treatment programs that understand the connection between mental health and substance abuse and can help you overcome both at the same time. They do this successfully using medications, individual counseling, support groups, and family counseling.

The right treatment programs assist you medically through detox to discharge. You will be allowed to participate in setting goals and creating your treatment plan. You will be taught why you have mental health and addiction issues. Finally, you will be taught how to overcome them, coping skills, and how to prevent a relapse.

Reach out today to heal the connection between your mental health and substance abuse.