People who have a mental illness will often have a problem with addiction. When both of these problems occur together, it is called having co-occurring disorders and is often referred to as a dual diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Certain mental health disorders can increase the risk of drug addiction, while use of harmful substances can cause symptoms that resemble a mental illness or may make mental health conditions worse.
Mental Illness and Addiction
Mental illnesses often occur from changes in the brain. When levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are too low or too high, it results in mood disorders and mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Drug addiction is also caused by changes in the brain that are stems from use of harmful substances. Drug abuse can also cause these changes to occur. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction itself is a mental illness.
How Does Mental Illness Lead to Drug Abuse?
Those with a mental illness often use drugs or alcohol as a way to temporarily feel better. Drugs can temporarily raise or lower levels of certain neurotransmitters that are often out of balance because of a mental health issue. This is sometimes called “self-medicating”, but it is really causing more harm than good as those with mental health problems are 50% more likely to have trouble with substance abuse or drug addiction than those without mental health issues, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Can Drug Abuse Cause Other Mental Illness?
Using alcohol and drugs can change the production of neurotransmitters in the body affecting the brain. If levels of these neurotransmitters become out of balance to a greater degree, this change can result in mental illness. However, once the drug addiction is treated, the mental health issue may resolve itself as well if neurotransmitter levels return to normal. Substance use can also produce symptoms that are similar to mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety. These symptoms should also disappear with drug abuse treatment. There are times when mental illness goes undetected, but will be discovered through screening prior to drug addiction treatment. In this case, one did not necessarily cause the other.
Co-occurring Mental Illness and Drug Abuse
For some individuals, both mental illness and addiction can occur together without one necessarily causing the other. This is because there are shared areas in the brain that are affected by both of these issues. Additionally, some of the same genetic influences, environmental triggers, and developmental issues can negatively affect both mental health and drug abuse or drug addiction, making it more likely that these disorders can occur at the same time.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Those with both mental illness and drug addiction need to receive treatment for both. While two different treatment providers or types of treatment can be used, there is often some overlap in treatment of certain symptoms that may be present with both mental illness and addiction. It is vitally important that these individuals receive treatment for mental health and drug addiction at the same time, since each illness can influence the other. Seeking treatment is the first step to getting better. Those with a mental illness can live a productive life with reduced symptoms and freedom from harmful addictions. Those with drug addictions can learn to control their urges to use drugs, and at the same time treat their mental disorders.