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Substance abuse and mental health issues go hand-in-hand. There is a proven connection between substance use disorders (SUD) and mental health disorders. Many people struggle with both issues and for most, one drives the other in some manner
How does someone know if they have a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health issue?
A substance use disorder (SUD) accompanied by a mental health disorder is called a co-occurring disorder. This means that two or more health issues are happening concurrently and likely contribute to one another. It also means when one problem goes untreated the other worsens.
Mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders frequently occur in tandem. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about half of all people with severe mental illnesses abuse drugs. More than one-third of all people with alcohol use disorder and more than one-half of all drug abusers are also battling mental illness. And of everyone diagnosed with a mental health disorder, nearly a third abuse drugs or alcohol.
There is no rule as to whether a substance use disorder or mental health disorder comes first. The situation is different for everyone. One does not cause the other, though the two share a link.
Some people with mental illness use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and manage the symptoms of their mental illness, especially when undiagnosed. Substances make it easier for some people to deal with difficult emotions or alter their mood. Unfortunately, substance use disorders tend to have a negative long-term effect on your mental health. A person might feel better initially, but over time both problems will worsen.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs also increases the underlying risks of mental health disorders. Mental health issues are linked to a person’s genetics, his or her environment, and a variety of other external factors. Alcohol or drug use could serve as a “tipping point” for anyone at risk for mental illness.
The use of alcohol and drugs make symptoms of mental illness worse. The use of substances can also make mental health medication less effective.
Recognizing the symptoms of substance use disorders is an important factor in getting appropriate healthcare support. A person who has any of the following symptoms might have a substance use disorder:
There are many different mental health disorders, but some are more commonly linked to alcohol and drug abuse. These include depression, anxiety, mood or personality disorders, and PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur anywhere from a month to years after the traumatic event. Symptoms can interfere with work, relationships, and overall quality of life. Health experts group PTSD symptoms into four categories including:
This is not a comprehensive list. Symptoms tend to vary over time or from person to person.
Treatment is available for co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Treating only one or the other is rarely effective. Integrated treatment approaches addressing both issues simultaneously work best.
Treatment for mental health disorders might include:
Treatment for substance use disorder might include:
It also helps to:
Recovery can be more challenging for those with co-occurring conditions, but it is still possible with the right support.
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“NIMH » Borderline Personality Disorder.” Nih.Gov, 4 Dec. 2018, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967.