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Recovering from Mental Health Problems and Substance Use

Mental health disorders are complex illnesses that affect our brain.  Along with having an issue with substance use disorders, many people suffer with other mental health disorders at the same time – depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and many others.  The best treatment is a holistic approach that says that all areas of human suffering must be addressed, not just one or the other. 

43 Million Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness

10 Million cases are considered serious mental illnesses

14 Million adults with mental illness use illicit drugs

8 Million adults have a mental illness and a substance use disorder

Nearly 6 out of 10 people with a substance use disorder also suffer from a mental disorder such as Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, PTSD or schizophrenia.

Substance use disorders often co-occur alongside other mental illnesses. More than half of people with substance use disorders also have a mental illness. Sometimes the mental illness comes first. In other people, substance abuse occurs first. In both situations, each disorder amplifies the symptoms of the other. With comprehensive treatment, individuals can recover from addiction and most co-occurring mental health disorders. But failing to address co-occurring disorders during addiction treatment increases the chances of relapse.

Why Substance Use and Other Mental Disorders Co-Occur

Mental health disorders increase a person’s risk of using drugs or drinking alcohol. Substance abuse also increases the risk of developing a mental illness. However, it’s difficult to prove that one causes the onset of the other. Scientists are still studying the brain to determine how mental disorders develop, but they have several theories.

Risk factors for co-occurring disorders include:

  • Genetic predisposition: Genes may make a person more susceptible to addiction and other mental disorders.
  • Environmental triggers: Stress, trauma and other events can cause mental health issues that make substances of abuse more appealing.
  • Involvement of similar brain regions: Brain systems responsible for functions such as reward or stress may be affected by both drug use and mental illness.
  • Early exposure: Being exposed to alcohol or other drugs during childhood and adolescence affects the development of the brain, making a person more susceptible to addiction and other mental illnesses.

Some otherwise healthy individuals develop mental health problems after abusing alcohol or other drugs. For example, alcohol can cause major depression. Meth and marijuana use can cause anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.

Drugs can also cause earlier onset of mental illness. For example, people with genetic risk factors for schizophrenia often develop symptoms of the mental illness earlier in life if they regularly smoke weed.

In some situations, abstaining from alcohol or drug use can mitigate mental health issues. However, some substances can cause long-lasting or permanent damage, and treatment is necessary to help people cope with the symptoms of mental illness.

Mental Disorders that Co-Occur with Substance Abuse

Any mental health disorder can co-occur alongside substance use disorders. The most common types of co-occurring disorders include mood, anxiety, psychotic, eating, personality and behavioral disorders. Each category includes numerous types of mental disorders that can range in severity.

Mood Disorders

Clinical Depression

A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.

  • Anxiety Disorder
  • A mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

  • Dementia
  • A group of thinking and social symptoms that interferes with daily functioning.

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • A chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

  • Schizophrenia
  • A disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

  • Autism
  • A serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • A disorder characterized by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

    For more information about Mental Health Disorders, visit www.nami.org

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