Mental health and substance abuse often go hand in hand. The connection between these two conditions is so strong, that many wonder if it the drugs that cause the mental condition in the first place. but is that really the case?
People with certain mental conditions are more likely to develop some type of addiction than those without one. Furthermore, people with antisocial personality disorders have a 15% higher chance of becoming drug addicts. For people with bipolar disorder, the rate reaches 14%.
Many people with mental health problems tend to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. These methods help them temporarily alleviate the symptoms of the illness. In consequence, this behavior eventually leads to addiction and increases the risks associated with chronic use. As stated in research done in 2005 on “Self-Medication of Mental Health Problems”, 4.4% of mental illness sufferers who had not received mental health care in the past year self-medicated using illicit drugs (excluding marijuana). Also, 4.4% was using alcohol to mask the symptoms.
According to Edward Khantzian’s Self-Medication Hypothesis (SMH) of addictive disorders, the substance of choice is often not random but chosen to counteract the effects of an illness. For example, someone struggling with anxiety would turn to alcohol due to its anxiolytic properties, while an individual with ADD (attention deficit disorder) would prefer a stimulant such as amphetamines.
PTSD and Drug Abuse Statistics
According to PTSD United, an estimated 8% of Americans have PTSD at any given time. This amounts to 24.4 million people. However, the number is even higher, with approximately 44.7 million people who have struggled or currently are struggling with PTSD.
PTSD presents with a range of symptoms, that can often go misdiagnosed, which has resulted in PTSD sufferers having the highest rates of healthcare service use, consequently costing the society $42.3 billion a year in “medical treatment costs, indirect workplace costs, mortality costs, and prescription drug costs.” (PTSD statistics)
This issue strongly affects our vets. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 20 % of vets that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 10 % of Gulf War veterans, and 30 % of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD.
Some of the most common mental health problems associated with substance abuse are:
- Amnestic disorder
- Mood disorder
- Sleep disorder
Short-Term Drug Effects On Mental Health
Many psychoactive substances can cause mood changes while the drug is in your system. Although, this can happen even after the detox period is over. Some of the mental health issues from drugs can include anxiety, mood changes, depression, and psychosis.
Long-Term Drug Effects On Mental Health
Many drugs can cause mental health problems that can last for years. It will linger after one has stopped using drugs. Long-term drug use can affect neurotransmitters in the individual’s brain. As a result, it can trigger certain mental health problems.
Excessive use of ecstasy can lead to experiencing depressive states. Ecstasy increases serotonin levels in the brain and induces a sense of happiness. After one has stopped taking the drug, serotonin levels drop. Of course, this is due to the brain’s inability to produce it by itself.
In some cases abusing substances can lead to constant feelings of sadness or lack of energy, this can be mistaken for depression, when in fact the feelings are symptoms of withdrawal.
The most common scenario though is that people struggling with depression find solace in drugs or alcohol since they’re able to boost their mood for even just a moment. This kind of self-medication often leads to addiction as it becomes their only way to cope.
Dual Diagnosis Problem
Dual Diagnosis is the term used to describe someone who has a problem with drugs or alcohol, as well as a separate diagnosis of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another mood-related disorder. While not the same, addiction and mood disorders are heavily linked, with some studies quoting that up to half of all people who suffer from a mood disorder use drugs and/or alcohol to cope.
The difficulty is that often the symptoms overlap and so mood disorders can be diagnosed as addiction and vice versa.
- Lack of self-care or poor hygiene
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities
- Withdrawn behavior, or sudden changes in behavior
- Aggression, irritability or mood swings
- Frequent illnesses, such as nausea or vomiting
- Spending money rapidly or frequently with no real explanation for where the money is going
- Secretive behavior
- High energy, even with little or no sleep
- Reckless behavior and a feeling of being invincible
- Aggression and irritability
- Racing thoughts and speech
- Poor judgement or impulsive behavior
- Delusions of grandeur or self-importance
- Extreme self-confidence
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Fatigue or inability to focus
- Irritability, anxiety, or worry
- Thoughts of death or suicide
The interesting fact is that the cause of both, mental illness and drug abuse are the same factors. They can include:
- Environment – some environmental issues such as trauma or stress can cause mental illness and substance abuse.
- Genetics – Genes can cause mental illness and substance abuse in two ways. Some proteins can directly trigger those disorders. Otherwise, they can do it indirectly by altering the way a person responds to stressful situations.
- Distorted brain activities – many drugs that target neurotransmitters can eventually trigger mental illness.
Professionals working with drug addicts must take into consideration the underlying mental health problems. The treatment has to address both the mental illness and the substance abuse issue.
Therapy often includes medications for mental illness or medication they use to ease withdrawal symptoms. Behavioral therapy is also necessary. This allows the patient to learn new ways of dealing with mental issues without reverting to drugs. Also, there are specialized rehabilitation facilities for people with dual diagnosis. Here, they can get medical treatment for mental illness (medications and behavioral therapy) and substance abuse.