The Dangerous Relationship Between Addiction and Mental Health

There are several terms used when discussing substance use and mental health. You may hear someone call the relationship co-occurring, comorbid, or dual diagnosis. They mean that a person has both a substance use disorder diagnosis or addiction and a mental health disorder diagnosis at the same time.

The Journal of American Medical Association reports 50% of people with severe mental illness also struggle from substance abuse. Statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health claim 45 percent of Americans have a dual diagnosis. Both findings are alarming.

The report also shows three million people with a dual diagnosis are functioning and can meet personal and professional obligations. Unfortunately, only about half of this group receives treatment of any kind. This isn’t very reassuring since there are so many treatment options available today that don’t require leaving your job or family for some time.

Also, if left untreated, the relationship between addiction and mental health can become dangerous.

The Danger of Addiction

Substance use disorders are biopsychosocial disorders involving brain disease. When someone develops an addiction, they cannot quit using a substance despite multiple attempts to stop and despite adverse consequences.

Common substances associated with addiction include opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, stimulants, marijuana, and more.

Having an addiction alone can lead to many losses, and If left untreated, misusing substances can lead to death. It’s important to seek professional addiction treatment to avoid serious health issues.

The Danger of Mental Illness?

Mental health disorders are health conditions that affect thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When any of these are dysfunctional, it affects all areas of your life, including relationships, careers, and even self-care abilities.

Common mental health illnesses include mood, personality, anxiety, psychotic, eating, and trauma-related disorders.

An untreated mental illness can increase the severity and interfere with your ability to do your job, maintain relationships, and take care of other responsibilities. As your mental health declines, so does your ability to care for yourself.

What Causes Co-Occurring Disorders?

Like many other conditions, there is no one specific origin—instead, a combination of biological, psychological, physical, and social factors. Substance use can lead to or increase mental health problems, and some people begin using drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms. The two disorders are intertwined.

There are risk factors or things that increase your chances of having a dangerous relationship between addiction and mental health. Risk factors may include:

  • Family history of mental illness or addiction. Genetics play a role in both substance use and mental health. Inheriting genetics from family does not guarantee you will develop either or both disorders. However, if combined with other risk factors, it makes it more likely.
  • Past trauma affects both mental health and substance use disorders until they are adequately treated. Examples of past traumas include physical or sexual abuse, surviving dangerous events, the loss of a loved one, and war combat. Untreated trauma causes severe mental health symptoms, and many choose drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms. Only substances further traumatize the brain.
  • Prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, toxins, and viruses.
  • Low self-esteem is a risk factor for co-occurring disorders because peers may more easily influence you to participate in negative behaviors, like drug or alcohol use. The substances give you a false sense of confidence. You may put yourself in risky situations where others may harm you. If you survive, the trauma further reduces your self-esteem and secures your dependency on substances.
  • Underlying medical conditions often lead to mental health and substance use disorders. When you feel bad physically, your emotional health is affected, and vice versa. To cope, you may choose drugs or alcohol, which only temporarily masks the physical and psychological pain.
  • Living Environment influences both mental health and substance use. Those living in chaotic home environments have a higher chance of developing co-occurring disorders. Chaotic environments are the ones with family members fighting, abusing substances, and being surrounded by distress.

When Addiction and Mental Health Go Untreated

Getting diagnosed early can prevent personal, social, professional, and legal consequences. Mental health symptoms do not go away, even after self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. What happens is the incidences of mental health episodes increase. To cope, some choose to increase their use of substances. Then a vicious cycle begins.

When mental health and addiction go untreated, that typically means physical health conditions are going untreated. Illnesses like diabetes, liver disease, asthma, blood pressure, and back pain can lead to severe consequences and, for some, may be fatal.

Your health is not the only area of life negatively impacted by untreated mental health and substance use disorders. Relationships with friends and family deteriorate. Your performance at work weakens, and with tardiness and absences, you lose your job. This also means you lose money and may encounter financial struggles.

Consequences like these make your mental health worse. To obtain drugs and alcohol, you may participate in risky behaviors that threaten your life.

You don’t have to be stuck in this cycle. Treatment is available and can start on an outpatient basis at your local mental health center.

Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health

Co-occurring disorders of mental health and substance use must be treated at the same time. Only focusing on healing one area leads to a relapse, either with substances or mental illness. Elements of a co-occurring treatment program should include an extensive evaluation that allows a team of mental health professionals to create a treatment plan. Medication management is provided to help alleviate withdrawal and mental health symptoms.

Individual and group services offer evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy. Look for a mental health center that uses traditional and alternative therapies and provides population-specific services, like groups for seniors. Or ketamine treatment for those with treatment-resistant depression, trauma-focused therapies for those with PTSD, and access to community resources.

If you have a dangerous relationship between mental health and addiction, reach out for help today. It is very possible to treat both disorders successfully. We can help.