Mental disorders frequently occur with substance abuse and addiction, making recovery a much more complex process. In some cases, the mental illness might come first, prompting the person to turn to drugs or alcohol to dull the symptoms of the disorder. Other times, substance abuse may bring on or exacerbate the symptoms of a mental disorder. Because these two concerns often go hand-in-hand, it is important to understand what mental health looks like and recognize when there might be a mental illness that might need to be addressed to ensure the greatest chance of a successful recovery.
Common Mental Illnesses with Substance Abuse
There are a number of mental illnesses that frequently occur with substance abuse:
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is much more than simply feeling shy around people. This disorder is characterized by an overwhelming fear of being judged by others in social situations. Social anxiety can seriously impact one’s quality of life, keeping them from pursuing romantic and social relationships and making them feel alone, helpless and ashamed.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety disorder impacts around 15 million adults in the U.S. Sadly, more than one-third of those with the disorder wait 10 years or more before seeking help. In addition, many with social anxiety disorder also develop a substance abuse problem as they turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms of anxiety.
Depression is a mental illness that can severely interfere with day-to-day functioning. This brain disorder may be the result of genetics, environmental factors, biological factors or traumatic events. The illness is much more than a case of the “blues,” it is a serious physiological disorder that usually requires professional treatment to overcome.
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common types of mental illness in the U.S. today, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 6.7 percent of adults in this country suffer from the disorder. Most of those (70 percent) are women, with the average onset occurring around 32 years of age. There is also a high incidence of depression occurring with a substance abuse disorder, making the illness more challenging to treat. However, the good news is that depression is a very treatable illness, through a variety of treatment options and ongoing support.
Also known as manic-depressive illness, this disorder is characterized by intense emotional shifts known as “mood episodes.” Manic stages include periods of high energy and an overly joyful and excitable attitude. Depressive stages follow, which is a time of extreme sadness, hopelessness and low energy levels. Much more than the normal “ups and downs” of life, this illness can greatly impact one’s ability to function on a daily basis.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance estimates that around 5.7 million American adults suffer from bipolar disorder. The median age for the onset of this illness is 25, although some children and teens also develop the disorder. Bipolar is consistent among men and women, all races and all ages within the general population. Substance abuse is also high among people with bipolar disorder, although the specific link between the two remains unclear.
Self-Medication: What it is and Why it’s Dangerous
Self-medication refers to the act of using drugs or other substances or behaviors to treat an undiagnosed medical disorder. People that suffer from a mental illness like social anxiety disorder or depression may turn to some types of drugs or alcohol to soothe their uncomfortable symptoms of their illness. Self-medication may appear to help for a period of time, but it can quickly turn to substance abuse and addiction and a much more complex treatment and recovery.
Self-medication may be used to “treat” an existing mental disorder. In some cases, substance abuse can lead to the onset of a mental illness. At this point, the person may continue to use the substance to deal with the symptoms, making the illness worse over time. Self-medication is a dangerous practice for many reasons:
- Self-medication with drugs or alcohol can lead to substance abuse and addiction
- Some drugs can make the symptoms of a mental illness worse instead of better
- Once a dual diagnosis is present, both the abuse disorder and the mental illness become more challenging to treat
- Substance abuse increases suicide risk, particularly in those with mental illness
- Self-medication can dull symptoms of a mental illness, making it harder to diagnose and treat the disorder
At West Coast Recovery Centers, we offer healthy treatment options for mental illness and substance addiction to give our patients the best possible outcome and recovery. We understand how tempting self-medication can be for patients suffering with mental illness and help them find healthier, more constructive ways of managing their disorder once the addiction is properly addressed. To learn more about the treatment programs available at West Coast Recovery Centers, contact us today at 442-333-6199.