Mental Illness and Drug Abuse

mental illness and addiction

An Overview of Mental Illness and Drug Abuse

The links between mental illness and drug addiction can surprise you, but will make perfect sense. People living with mental illness will try to seek relief from their symptoms every bit as much as a person who is mentally healthy, but suffering from a physical ailment. Mental illnesses, though, are invisible diseases, so the treatment for these diseases will look different than treatment for any physical injury. Drug and alcohol addiction is a mental illness, in part, but addiction to drugs and alcohol comes with a litany of physical effects. As with any other mental illness, addiction makes you physically ill.  

When people living with mental illness choose to use drugs or alcohol, it is often to disconnect from pain they are feeling as a result of their mental illness, usually in the name of self-medication. But addiction can affect their illness, and interact with active prescriptions taken by the user. The last thing that anyone living with addiction needs is to exacerbate another condition, especially given the stress that comes with any addiction.

Drug and alcohol use can be a catalyst for mental illness, too. Many drugs cause anxiety and depression, two disorders that can become worse with or without the tyranny of drug and alcohol addiction.

Mental Illness and Proneness to Addiction

mental health and substance abuse

Having depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, or certain personality disorders puts you at much higher risk for drug abuse and addiction than someone living with better mental health. In fact, having a mental illness makes you twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

If you are living with a mental illness, part of what can help your chances is easy access to mental health services. The question of access to effective and affordable mental health care services creates a huge disparity in the types of people living with undiagnosed or under-treated mental illness: people with better financial circumstances automatically have access to better mental health care services. With mental health services still costly, and minimum wage kept very low, people living at and around the poverty line are still rarely insured, and rarely have the time and money necessary to invest in their mental health. This can lead to problems later: unmitigated stress on a person living with a mental health issue can have disastrous consequences, including that ill person committing suicide.

With the everyday stress endured by the average American often described as, ‘overwhelming,’ adding a mental illness to already-difficult circumstances is a recipe for disaster.  Like addiction, mental illnesses, even depression and anxiety, the two most discussed in mainstream media, isn’t curable. Depression and anxiety can come in waves of varying severity, similar to drug and alcohol use by a person living with addiction.

Drugs and alcohol provide immediate, pleasurable release to the user. For a person living with mental illness, this means relief that can be had immediately, and revisited as often as necessary. Being able to take a break from the daily stress and negativity of everyday life means the world to a person living with mental illness, so it’s understandable that this person would look for comfort in a substance. The good feelings that drugs and alcohol can bring feel as though they’re coming from the user, and this can empower the user to continue.

The Importance of Treating Mental Illness

Overall, those living with schizophrenia are the group of mentally ill people that are most likely to turn to substance abuse to help cope with their symptoms, and they have significantly higher levels of drug use when compared to the general population. This fact seems to present a seemingly obvious solution: simply treat the person living with schizophrenia, and you’ll relieve them of addiction. But most people understand that this isn’t a simple task, and therein lay the essential problem to treating those most vulnerable to addiction: the lack of access of affordable, quality mental health care. Again, people living in and around the federal poverty line have less access to the mental health care that they need, and will self-medicate. This is not to say that this never happens with middle- and upper-class people, but they are infinitely more likely to have the kind of access to medical insurance and strong support systems to get them into a treatment program, and continue to stay sober.

With this, the importance of programs that treat mental health and drug and alcohol addiction concurrently cannot be understated, but it continues to be near the end of a long list public health concerns that local and federal governments struggle to alleviate. The great thing about drug and alcohol rehab is that today, you can have more access to mental health care concurrent with medical drug treatment to further solidify a speedy and lasting recovery. Resolving a mental health care issue while in drug and alcohol addiction treatment is essential for any anti-addiction success, and is foundational for lifelong sobriety. Well-managed mental health and plenty of support can help to keep a person living with mental illness on a safe, productive path.

A Matter of Life and Death

There is, of course, a genetic link to mental illness and drug abuse. People with a family history of cancer are likely to have cancer at some point in their lives. The same goes for people with family histories of addiction or mental illness. Today, people are much more aware of their family histories, and many with family histories that include addiction are able to stop themselves from going down that path, knowing what is most likely. With mental illness, no one gets a say in how they feel, but proper treatment that may include lifestyle changes and medication can make a person’s life dealing with a mental illness much easier.

Another problem, however, tends to arrive with people living with mental illness: they’ll often begin to abuse drugs and alcohol while continuing to use their medication, which may embolden them to abuse other drugs. Mixing drugs and alcohol with medication can have disastrous side effects that can land someone in the hospital for days. Drug overdoses don’t have to be too much of one drug – mixing cocaine and alcohol with certain medications can cause a person’s body to shut down. Having too much of anything in your system is dangerous, and the more access a person has to quality care, the less likely an overdose is to happen.

Protect yourself, and the people around you by getting in touch with a rehabilitation center near you.