Roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders are negatively impacted by substance abuse. Similarly, around 53% of substance abusers suffer from serious mental illness.
Substance abuse and mental illness are complicated. They’re personal and often invisible diseases with legal and social implications.
Keep reading to understand how addiction and mental health are related.
The Relationship Between Addiction and Mental Health
It’s often said that mental health and addiction are comorbid – but what does that mean? Put simply; it means that multiple health conditions coexist and are frequently found together.
These conditions can interact and influence each other or can exist separately. Essentially, every case is unique. Drug addiction and mental health are both illnesses that have an effect on brain chemistry.
And we’re only beginning to understand how complicated the brain is. Being able to treat addiction is an ever-evolving practice.
Physical and emotional trauma can leave mental scars that affect people long after the trauma has passed. Studies have shown a correlation between trauma and addiction, and early childhood trauma can affect people for the rest of their lives.
Traumatic experiences come in many different forms. Sexual abuse can result in some of the most serious afflictions, but physical and emotional abuse may also cause serious issues. Unfortunately, people who experience trauma are more likely to develop addiction and mental health issues.
Trauma can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, among other illnesses. PTSD can present as an irrational response to triggers that causes the brain to shut down and relive traumatic events long after they have occurred. Symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety. Depression, on the other hand, causes persistent feelings of isolation, sadness, and emptiness. (CF https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181584/)
Trauma isn’t only confined to abuse. Traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, an accident at work, or even heartbreak, can result in mental health issues.
Substance abuse provides temporary relief from the emotions associated with trauma. Unfortunately, this can quickly turn into a cycle of addiction.
Substance abuse may make addressing the underlying trauma and mental illnesses even harder. Mental health professionals can help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction and provide the appropriate treatment.
It’s not uncommon for people to self-medicate when dealing with mental health issues. Mental illness is deeply personal and can leave people overwhelmed and unsure how to cope with their symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol are coping mechanisms. However, they can be a slippery slope that provides short-term relief at the expense of long-term well-being.
For instance, somebody dealing with social anxiety may find that alcohol helps them to loosen up. This can turn into a pattern of relying on alcohol any time they’re in a social setting. Over time, their tolerance increases, meaning they need to consume more to achieve the same effect.
A few months later, they may become addicted to alcohol and unable to cope without drinking.
Self-medication is never sustainable. It’s an unhealthy way of managing mental health issues and can create new problems.
How our brains work can also affect the relationship between addiction and mental health.
For example, some people may have a deficiency in certain neurotransmitters, which can contribute to the development of addiction and mental health disorders.
The common problem is how drugs and alcohol interact with the brain. They alter the brain’s chemistry, leading to changes in cognitive function.
Our habits and tendencies are formed by reinforcement. As a person continues to use a substance as an easy way to access the “good” chemicals, our brains then learn that the best way to feel better is to abuse substances.
Where mental health issues cause people to seek easy access to mood-enhancing substances is where problems can get ugly. Understanding the role of brain chemistry can help develop effective treatments for addiction and mental health disorders.
Genetics plays a significant role in developing addiction and mental health disorders. Certain genes can make individuals more susceptible to these conditions.
In other words, if a person has a family history of addiction or mental health issues, they’re at higher risk of developing disorders. This doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed or predetermined – only that they’re at higher risk.
This is because the relationship between genetics and addiction is complicated. Mental health disorders can have a genetic component. Some genes are linked to depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.
However – as this list demonstrates – other factors may be at play. The surrounding environment, trauma, stress, and social settings are all factors in addition to a person’s genes.
Stigma and Social Pressure
Many people who use illicit substances are introduced to them by friends and acquaintances. The stigma of saying “no” can influence people to use illicit substances and even legitimize their use. Such peer pressure can reinforce the legitimacy of substance abuse as a coping mechanism and an acceptable part of daily life.
Social stigma also plays a large role in mental health.
Still seen by many as a personal failure, mental illness is difficult to discuss and seek help for. This stigma can prevent people from accessing treatment or speaking openly about their struggles. This can lead to people turning to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping instead of seeking professional help.
Recognize the Symptoms Early
Addiction and mental health often go hand-in-hand. They influence each other in a downward spiral, making reaching out and seeking treatment difficult. Understanding them is the first step in helping others.
At InterCoast, we offer a variety of hybrid, online, and on-campus certificate programs to help students succeed in various programs, including programs in Alcohol and Drug Counseling and mental health programs. Click here to learn more about our programs.