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Many people living with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. This scenario, known as a dual diagnosis, requires a tailored treatment plan to address both conditions simultaneously. If you are struggling with co-occurring addiction and mental health problems, here’s what you should know about the connection.
Co-Occurring Mental Health and Addiction
Several mental health and behavioral disorders commonly present themselves alongside addiction, including borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression and anxiety. While addiction professionals widely accept the theory that a mental health disorder can create a substance abuse disorder – and vice versa – we still need more research to determine the exact reasons both conditions so often occur simultaneously.
Which Came First?
Though simultaneous addiction and mental health disorders may seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario, the truth is that people can develop either substance use or mental illness first. For instance, those who struggle with mental health issues such as PTSD, depression and anxiety may initially begin drinking or using drugs as a crutch to silence their inner critic and help minimize their negative feelings.
If you already have the genetic and environmental factors that put you at risk for developing mental health challenges, alcohol and drug abuse can push you past your tipping point. For example, some studies suggest that daily users of high-THC marijuana are more likely to experience a psychotic break, while chronic users of opioids are more vulnerable to developing depression.
Drug and alcohol use can also exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness, or trigger new ones. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can increase feelings of sadness or fatigue. Those who regularly drink or abuse drugs to feel normal can experience anxiety or depression when the effects of these substances wear off, or as they struggle to cope with how addiction is impacting their lives. People with substance misuse problems may develop issues like depression and other mood disorders when their addiction leads them to self-isolate.
Self-Medication for Mental Illness
Sadly, people who feel the need to escape from the desolation of mental health challenges often turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy. However, using substances to self-medicate a mental illness can create a vicious cycle. Once you build a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, it will take higher and higher doses to achieve the desired feelings. As the addiction progresses, it causes more damage to your physical and mental well-being.
The following scenarios demonstrate how some people attempt to get around a mental illness with alcohol and drugs.
- Those who often struggle with panic attacks may become overly reliant on benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium.
- Someone with social anxiety might drink excessively to relieve stress at a party where they will have to meet many new people.
- A person struggling with trauma or grief could turn to marijuana to help them relax and stay calm.
Warning Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder
Because of the complex, intertwined nature of substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders, the symptoms may vary widely among people with a dual diagnosis. For example, someone who struggles with anxiety and alcohol abuse simultaneously could have markedly different behavior than someone who uses marijuana to cope with PTSD. However, there are some general warning signs that you may have a co-occurring disorder.
- If you have a stressful, frightening or painful experience, do you turn to drugs and alcohol to regulate your feelings?
- Do you have deep-seated emotional issues stemming from unaddressed childhood abuse or trauma?
- Do you feel anxiety or depression related to your drug and alcohol use? For example, do you worry about how substance abuse is adversely affecting your relationships?
- Is there a family history of mental illness or substance abuse?
You Deserve to Feel Better
If addiction and mental health disorders are regulating your life, it doesn’t have to be this way. Treating a dual diagnosis can be complicated, but it is possible with the right provider and clinical modalities. To learn more about how Beach House can help you achieve lifelong freedom from an addiction and mental health challenges, contact us today.