The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9.2 million adults had both a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health or behavioral disorder.
And while one does not necessarily cause the other, there exists a strong connection between mental health issues and addiction. In fact, 50% of people who struggle with mental health disorders are also affected by substance abuse.
This is known as a dual diagnosis and means an individual with the co-occurring disorder has to simultaneously deal with both problems. To these people, the connection between (and codependence of) mental health and addiction is very real, often overwhelming, and makes their road to a life free of addiction much more challenging.
Because of the codependency of substance abuse and mental illness, effective treatment in rehab or in transitional living facilities cannot focus on either one or the other; it must address both to increase the chances of achieving long-term sobriety.
One of the primary challenges in these co-occurring situations is the difficulty of being able to solve the chicken or the egg puzzle: Which came first...mental illness or addiction?
The answer, you may not be surprised to learn, is that it's very hard to determine. And with long-term, chronic use by someone with predisposed mental health conditions, what really matters is there needs to be a priority and an urgency to treat BOTH as a function of the other.
There are 3 reasons for this:
#1) Substance abuse can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
If a person is already susceptible or predisposed to a mental health disorder, symptoms can be triggered by substance abuse. In some cases, getting treatment for addiction and eliminating drugs and alcohol from the system is enough to alleviate the symptoms of depression or anxiety. However, substance abuse alters brain chemistry for the long term, which could lead to mental health issues that require more attention to address than simply quitting drugs and alcohol.
#2) Undiagnosed and untreated mental health disorders can increase the risk of substance abuse.
People who suffer from mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or attention deficit disorder (ADHD) often turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve their symptoms. And while the substance may provide temporary relief to their symptoms, it can make them worse in the long run. This leads to a cycle of ongoing substance abuse and deteriorating mental health symptoms, with each feeding the other one in a difficult situation to gain control over.
#3) Substance abuse shares symptoms with a few mental health issues.
Alcohol is well-known as being a depressant. It can mimic depression with feelings of sadness, lethargy, hopelessness, and even anger. Certain stimulants, such as methamphetamines or cocaine, can cause manic episodes of euphoria followed by sudden and debilitating crashes, which are symptoms associated with bipolar disorder or manic depression. These depressive periods can then lead to anxious feelings around the entire cycle, which will then feed into the cycle as the individual uses more to alleviate or avoid these feelings altogether. As mentioned above, chronic use of these substances can result in long-term and potentially irreversible changes to the brain’s chemistry.
Often mental illnesses may go undiagnosed, leaving these individuals to deal with the symptoms the best way they know how to, through self-medication. And as the vicious cycle takes hold and spins their lives beyond their or their loved one's control, most are incapable of breaking the cycle on their own and receiving the proper holistic recovery treatment required to address the substance abuse and the spiraling mental health issues.
Or vice versa. At this point in the process, it matters little what created the cycle, mental illness or addiction.
What matters most is incorporating treatment that addresses BOTH to increase the individual's chance at long-term recovery.
During rehab, and especially during the critical transitional housing phase of early recovery, it is important to ensure that your treatment focuses not only on substance abuse therapies but also incorporates mental health education and healing that could be essential in preventing trigger relapses... and the start of the addiction/mental illness cycle all over again.
JacobsWay provides safe and structured sober living and holistic restoration in transitional homes for men and women. If you or a loved one are struggling on your journey toward a life free from addiction, contact JacobsWay today for information on how we can help.