Substance abuse and mental health problems often go hand in hand. Oftentimes, it is the existence of mental problems which result in a person attempting to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Additionally, it is sometimes the case that the use of substances causes chemical changes in the brain which result in mental health problems. In the presence of both the abuse of a substance and a mental health crisis, it is difficult to know which came first. It is important to note that approximately half of those reporting a mental health problem also report a substance abuse addiction. It is important to understand the relationship of addiction and mental health in overcoming the mental effects of addiction.
Substance-Induced Mental Health Problems
When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems.
In co-occurring disorders, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function at work or school, maintain a stable home life, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.
Addiction has a full-orbed effect on humans. It affects us spiritually, physically, and yes, mentally. Under the influence of some toxic substances, a person can experience severe mental effects. Drugs produce anxiety, depression and can often lead to suicidal ideations. A person under the effects of drugs or alcohol can become paranoid, and can report seeing or hearing things that are not actually there.
These types of issues of mental health problems can occur after a long binge of using the substance, or can occur spontaneously after getting your hands on a bad batch of drugs. They are compounded by other issues, such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and dehydration. All three of these physical conditions are often present in those who excessively use drugs and alcohol, which makes the chances of developing a mental health disorder high for an addict.
Apart from the very scary aspect of losing grip on reality as a result of substance abuse is another risk of being misdiagnosed. If you are meeting a mental health provider for the first time while experiencing severe mental health issues, the therapist or doctor is likely to diagnose the symptoms in-kind with your current experience. This can mean that you leave the hospital setting with a more permanent ascription, such as being diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
These diagnoses usually come with a prescribed set of medications, and you may find that you are prompted to take these medications for the rest of your life.
While psychiatric guidelines for treating mental health disorders do have specific classificationsfor mental health issues that are induced by substances, it is often very difficult for an emergency provider to discern which of the symptoms are only due to the drugs or alcohol. It is very important, should you find yourself in this scenario, that you are completely forthcoming about any substances ingested prior to your evaluation, and ensure that these details of your experience are taken into account.
Preexisting Mental Health Issues
A more subtle problem of substance abuse is the attempt of the addict to escape the pain of mental health problems through self-medicating. In this theory, the person who is abusing substances is doing so much for the same reason that a doctor might prescribe psychiatric medications. The substances are taken as a means of reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma. The obvious drawback to this form of self-medication is that dosages of drugs and alcohol are not regulated, and, in the case of illicit drugs, the contents of the substance are not standardized. This can mean that one experience can vary from another, and can eventually result in the development of additional mental health disorders.
Depression is the most common mental health disorder associated with substance abuse. While the substance may initially provide relief from the sadness and anhedonia that a depressed person can experience, using this form of escapism can become a double-edged sword. Most substances will provide a burst of pleasure for the user, only to be followed by a withdrawal that leaves him or her in a pit of depression which is deeper than before.
Self-medicating for problems of anxiety is similarly self-defeating. One study has revealed that over 20% of people abusing drugs and alcohol are suffering from a form of anxiety disorder. The ingestion of a substance can help an anxious person to feel more at ease, but this, too, comes at a cost. Over time, the brain and body learns to become dependent on the substance in order to relax, and this biological response is what forms the basis of addiction.
How to Overcome the Challenges
Whatever the relationship between the mental issues and your addiction, the key is to eliminate the root of the problem in order to overcome the effects of mental effects of addiction. Most substance abuse treatment programs utilize the top-down approach to this end, through assisting the addicted person to first rid the body of the effects of the substances. Once the substances have lost their influence through detoxification, the real work of repairing the psyche can begin. You cannot treat the mental health issue without treating the addiction because you don’t know to what degree the addiction is causing the mental issues.
If your mental health problems have arisen as a result of substance abuse, you can expect it to take several weeks before the brain returns to baseline. For some, this baseline of functioning may be permanently altered, requiring the former addict to adapt to a new form of life. For fortunate others, the negative effects of the substance may permanently disappear after a matter of weeks.
For both the addict who developed acute mental health problems as a result of using, and the addict who uses to escape the mental health problems, there remains the issue of motivation. There is something that is lacking in the mind, emotions, and spirit of the addict, and the substances only provide a temporary promise of filling this need. A more permanent – and more healthy – solution is to seek therapy toward healing the underlying mental health issues which prompt the usage.