Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

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Mental illness has been very strongly linked to substance abuse by many research works and statistics bureaus. People with a history of mental illness are more than likely to abuse substances like cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. The diagnosis of mental illness makes it many more times likely for these individuals to indulge in substance abuse. The National Bureau of Economic Research has stated that there is a definite connection between mental health patients and substance abuse. They are responsible for the consumption of 38% of alcohol, 44% of cocaine and 40% of cigarettes. Also, people who have been diagnosed with any type of mental health illness have consumed about 60% of alcohol, 84% of cocaine and 68% of cigarettes.

Sadly, these substances do nothing to help ameliorate the incidence or severity of these illnesses; instead, they increase the severity of the original mental illness, and bring on their own plethora of health complications, making the situation far worse. Also, certain drugs can trigger certain types of mental health disorders like paranoia, delusion, and depression while the person is under the influence of the drug. In cases where these mental illness symptoms remain after the substance has worn off, it is referred to as a co-occurring mental disorder.  Where a patient has been diagnosed with substance abuse and also has a history of mental illness, it is crucial that treatment is administered to both issues concurrently. This is because untreated substance abuse will make the mental illness treatment ineffective. And untreated mental disorders will make it hard for the patient to remain sober and clean if he has been treated for substance abuse.

Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. The instinct to self-medicate their mental illness by people diagnosed with mental disorders is an impulse that must be fought strongly because the inclination by mental health patients toward addiction is much stronger than for persons without mental illnesses. Also, persons already diagnosed with mental illness have to take drugs that have unpleasant side effects. To alleviate the effects of these drugs, these patients often turn to drug abuse. People diagnosed with schizophrenia, for instance, take drugs for their hallucinations that induce depression. And for this depression, most of them start using marijuana.

Chronic Abuse

Those who chronically abuse drugs are more than likely to experience mental health issues even as this chronic abuse can initiate the onset of a previously latent disorder. In addition, both substance abuse and mental health disorders are influenced by hereditary factors, which means that some people may become susceptible to them as a matter of their DNA and as they grow older. Experimentation with drugs is almost definitely dangerous especially for someone with a history of mental illness, but what causes the most harm is the chronic use of drugs. Chronic users are physically and psychologically addicted to the drugs. They believe that the drugs are effective against mental health disorders, and this kind of thinking is not without evidence. Because of the temporary calming, energizing and mood-lifting effects of some of these drugs, that belief is cast in stone. It is no longer important to them that in the long term, these drugs do more harm than good to their mental and physical health.

Dual Diagnosis

Chronic addicts who also have a mental health condition are said to have a co-occurring condition or dual diagnosis. This type of situation is difficult to easily detect because physicians have a hard time understanding which problem is causing which, and which symptoms come from which disorder. There are some important facts to note that may help clarify a dual diagnosis, should such a situation exist:

  • People with mental illness sometimes use alcohol, marijuana or cocaine to self-medicate. Alcohol is the most used.
  • Certain types of mental illness patients are most likely to use harmful substances. Antisocial personality disorder patients have a 15.5% abuse rate, people with bipolar disorder have a 14.5% abuse rate and people with anxiety disorders have a 4.3% abuse rate.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Comprehensive treatment means an intense one-on-one therapy with a psychiatrist or therapist who has experience dealing with cases of dual diagnosis specifically. Medication may be required to soothe the effects of detox and withdrawal. The treatment can also be augmented with behavioral modification therapies and experiential therapies. They help to alter thoughts and behaviors to better manage both disorders.

The first thing to do when a dual diagnosis patient is brought into a treatment facility is to stabilize him in detox (this is after physicians have studies his mental and physical health history prior). They begin the process of removing the drugs from his system and administer treatment that helps deal with the withdrawal symptoms. When he is stable, he then begins the process of rehabilitation. Here any mental health issues are treated with as much priority as the substance abuse problems. The mental health problem and addiction both need treatment fairly concurrently for the individual to be able to make a full recovery. It is crucial that the facility has the capacity to treat both mental illness and addiction concurrently because this type of concurrent treatment has the much higher chance of seeing the patient make a complete recovery.

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