Do you ever feel like life is just piling one problem on top of the other? Sometimes the issues we’re facing in our lives are interrelated, and other times it’s just a chance that they overlap. If you’re struggling with mental health and addiction, you’ve likely wondered if one has caused or impacted the other.
In this article, we’ll explain the truth behind the relationship between mental health and addiction, plus what you need to know about treating dual diagnosis.
The relationship between mental health and addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s estimated that roughly half of those who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder struggle with substance use. The reverse is also true, that approximately half of those who are faced with addiction also struggle with one or more mental health conditions.
There is a high rate of overlap between substance use and mental health issues, and this is often referred to as dual diagnosis. Dual-diagnosis, also called comorbidity or co-occurring disorders, is the term used to describe a case in which a person lives with both a mental health and substance use condition simultaneously.
Dual-diagnosis is common but often goes untreated. Sometimes, individuals will seek treatment for one condition and not the other or will avoid treatment altogether. There are numerous potential reasons why treating comorbid disorders does not always occur. It may be due to shame of the stigma of one or both disorders, a lack of adequate treatment or unawareness of the presence of both disorders.
Both substance use disorders and mental health conditions can affect any person regardless of age, race, gender, socioeconomic status and other factors. While the onset of these disorders cannot always be prevented, both can be treated so individuals can live a full, meaningful and happy life.
Causation between conditions
How addiction affects mental health is a tricky, nuanced topic. There are many avenues through which to explain the high co-occurrence of these disorders, and none can narrow the relationship down to one cause. While many people who live with addiction and mental health wonder if there was a singular cause to both, or if one directly caused the other, the truth is that both disorders are highly complex and impossible to narrow down to one stimulus.
In some cases, like in the event of PTSD or complex grief, the cause of a mental health disorder may be traced back to a singular cause like experiencing violence or the death of a loved one. Although there is a singular event that spurred the onset of these conditions, there are likely underlying factors that also contribute to a person’s susceptibility to PTSD or grief.
Neither mental health nor substance use ever has a singular cause, even if there is one event that brought it to the surface. Rather, numerous factors contribute to mental health conditions and addiction. According to Mayo Clinic, here are the causes that combine to make mental health issues likely.
- Environmental factors: environmental factors experienced in utero (before birth) and after can impact lifelong conditions. Exposure to hazardous chemicals, extreme stress or dangerous living situations can make mental health issues more common;
- Genetic factors: inherited traits can make individuals more susceptible to mental health and substance use issues. These cannot be reversed, only identified and mediated;
- Brain chemistry: a person’s cognitive functioning and the neurotransmitters that regulate brain activity can make substance use and mental health more frequent.
Thus, it’s incorrect to say that a mental health condition led to drug abuse or alcohol addiction caused depression. The truth is that neither condition has a singular cause, although one often follows the other.
How addiction affects mental health
However, the two are not isolated conditions. Both mental health and substance use are daily struggles that impact school, work, romantic relationships, friendships, daily tasks, physical abilities and self-perception. Substance abuse and mental health have had significant effects on each other in abundant ways. Here are a few.
One of the most common schools of thought to explain the high mental health and addiction relationship is self-medication. The idea is that a person who experiences serious physical or emotional distress cannot cope through natural means and seeks alternatives, often falling into substance use.
For individuals who face depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders or a myriad of other conditions, using drugs or alcohol can temporarily quell symptoms of unwanted sensations. Generally, though, a dependency develops, only increasing the negative symptoms of the mental health disorder.
Prolonged mental health issues
Due to the high susceptibility of young people falling prey to substance abuse, teens and young adults are at a disadvantage when it comes to recovery from mental health disorders. This period of adolescence into adulthood is a time when individuals often seek treatment and find healing for mental health conditions.
Substance use during this vulnerable period could put off treatment for mental health, resulting in prolonged struggles with both conditions.
Symptoms are exacerbated
When a person struggles with mental health issues or addiction, each comes with its own set of negative side effects. When the two are experienced together, it’s inevitable that the symptoms of each will make the symptoms of the other more severe.
For example, a symptom of depression is irritability and low energy. A person who has depression and struggles with drug addiction will feel doubly irritable and lethargic when dealing with depression and withdrawal from drugs.
Getting help for dual-diagnosis
If learning how addiction affects mental health has got you interested in seeking whole-person treatment, look no further than Silvermist Recovery. With award-winning addiction and mental health treatment and catered programs for dual diagnosis, you can be sure to find healing from addiction and mental health sooner than you think. Call today to learn more.