Addiction and Mental Illness: Is There A Connection?

Treating someone for addiction or mental illness alone can be complex enough. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for a “dual diagnosis” to occur. This is where someone is suffering from a mental illness at the same time they are coping with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. There are certain groups that are more likely to be given a dual diagnosis, such as military veterans, persons of lower socioeconomic standing, and individuals with more general medical illnesses. The nature of these risks among certain individuals makes one ask whether or not there is a connection between mental health and the likelihood of addictive behaviors.

Self-Medicating Mental Illness with Drugs

It should come as no surprise that one of the major reasons individuals with mental illnesses turn to illegal drugs is as a method of treating related health issues. A person may find that the symptoms associated with their condition are less painful or severe when they are on drugs. They may not even know what it is they are suffering from, just that they can avoid it through substance abuse. This behavior only adds more problems, as it is becomes increasingly necessary to seek treatment for the often undiagnosed condition as well as drug addiction. Such persons would be better off at a dual diagnosis recovery center.

The Mental Health Problems Most Likely to Lead to Addiction

In addition to certain groups being at greater risk of drug addiction, there are certain mental health problems that are more likely to be linked to drug abuse. For instance, persons suffering from depression may be moved to self-medicate because of the feelings associated with the condition. Depression brings with it a completely overwhelming sense of sadness, hopelessness, inability to sleep, and in worse cases, inability to function. Some may turn to substance abuse to get themselves through the day. However, it only worsens depression symptoms and in turn, worsens the drug dependency. It’s undoubtedly a vicious cycle.

Other conditions that are vulnerable to drug abuse include schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mental Health Issues that Come After Addiction

It can be hard to determine which condition came first as drug abuse can in some cases have a psychological effect on substance abusers. The long-term effects of drug addiction in an individual who had no previous mental illnesses could range from paranoia and hallucinations to violent behavior and mood disturbances.

Because drug addiction often influences the brain and damages it over time, the addiction can and will create mental health issues where previously there were none. The longer someone is addicted to certain substances the more the mind deteriorates. The effect on the brain will mean that mental illness must be treated in addition to the drug problem.

“Connection” Or Coincidence?

After examining the groups most likely to suffer from addictive behaviors and the effects that drugs have on the brain, some could say that it’s a “chicken before the egg” scenario. Did the drug addiction cause the mental illness in an individual or did it irritate what was already there?

It’s very likely that both these things are true, depending on the individual. Though a dual diagnosis may occur where someone has been self-medicating due to mental health issues for years, it’s possible that drugs may have influenced a previously healthy brain to the point of needing to treat the side-effects as well as the addiction.

There is a strong connection between mental illness and drug addiction, regardless of the circumstances that lead to drug abuse. It’s important that individuals with mental health issues get the treatment they need as soon as possible, because left to their own devices, they can do themselves further harm by developing a crippling drug addiction.

Both those who suffer from mental health problems and those who are addicted to drugs can face a great deal of stigmatism from society, leading some to avoid treatment for either. It’s important for the public to become better educated about the realities of mental illness and drug addiction and how common they are. The more we learn as a society, the more individuals approach these matters with intelligence and compassion, the more likely the impacted will be willing to come forward for treatment.