The connection of mental illness and substance use disorder has become commonly acknowledged in the scientific community as a dual diagnosis. Oftentimes the presence of a mental illness can lead to substance abuse and eventually addiction, but drug and alcohol abuse can also create psychological conditions on their own.

What Is Considered Mental Illness and Substance Abuse?

A mental illness is a condition in which an individual’s brain does not function as a typical brain would. The term for these types of brains is neurodivergent as they diverge or stray away from what is considered normal function. Common examples of mental illnesses include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Anorexia, Bulimia and other eating disorders

Substance abuse, on the other hand, is not a condition itself but can lead to the development of addiction or substance use disorder. A majority of the time, substance abuse begins as recreational use of drugs or alcohol either alone or in social settings. As the usage increases in amount and frequency, the practice is referred to as substance abuse. Commonly abused substances include:

  • Heroin and other opioids
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Ecstasy and MDMA
  • Marijuana

The reason many individuals that suffer from mental illness turn to various substances is that they wish to mask their symptoms. While some seek out professional help and receive an appropriate treatment plan, it’s all too common to turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate instead.

The Danger of Self-Medicating

Regardless of the substance used, self-medicating is a dangerous practice that causes more harm than good. These various substances don’t actually address the true problem at hand and instead simply minimize the symptoms. In many cases the mental illness being covered up can increase in severity as it develops more over time.

When this happens, individuals may turn to higher quantities of their preferred substance or increase the frequency in which they seek out these altered states of mind. The more of a particular substance an individual consumes, the higher their tolerance becomes as well as the chance of dependency and addiction.

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Can Trigger One Another

There are multiple mental illnesses that can be found at birth but oftentimes they form out of various events in an individual’s life. Stress, traumatic events and abuse are all triggers that can leave permanent scars on a person’s psyche. Genetics can also play a role in the development of mental illness.

No matter how a mental illness is developed, substance abuse can create even worse symptoms in the user either during intoxication or after. If someone struggling with an anxiety order consumes a stimulant such as methamphetamines, they can experience an episode of extreme anxiety that doesn’t subside until the drug wears off.

Conversely, that same person may turn to alcohol which acts as a depressant and reduces the amount of anxious brain activity. While they can achieve a sense of calm while drinking, the anxiety comes back after sobering up and can be even worse than before.

Concerns Surrounding Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Anyone abusing drugs or alcohol can end up in dangerous situations or experience severe lapses in judgement. These instances are increased when the individual in question also suffers from a mental illness. As they are seeking to remove themselves from their regular state of mind, the individual may become oblivious to warning signs and red flags surrounding various situations.

A common example is lack of concern over unprotected sex or sharing needles with others. These types of activities can lead to the contraction of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and even HIV which can develop into AIDs.

If a person decides to drink in order to escape their mental illness symptoms, their decision-making skills are minimized. This can be due to both the alcohol as well as a desire to feel “normal” and have more exciting experiences.

Finding Treatment for Mental Illness and Addiction Comorbidity

Comorbidity is the term for the presence of two or more diseases within an individual at the same time. When these two diseases include a mental illness and substance use disorder, it can be daunting to try and find treatment for each. There are special accommodations and medical professionals needed to address these co-existing conditions.

Both mental illness and substance abuse or addiction must be treated together as they often become fueled by each other. Tackling each concern in rapid succession increases the success of treatment in both the short and long-term.

America’s Rehab Campuses are equipped with behavioral health and addiction recovery professionals who are trained and licensed to care for patients with a dual diagnosis. If you have any questions or concerns for yourself or a loved one, please take a moment to reach out to our compassionate team members for a private consultation at no charge.