When someone is battling substance abuse, they are not only dealing with chemical dependency and addiction. Such individuals frequently have other co-occurring disorders that complicate the picture. Studies have shown that about half the people with substance use disorders also suffer from mental illness. The opposite is also true. It is estimated that approximately 9 million Americans have co-occurring addiction disorders. Equally worrisome is the fact that 60% of adolescents receiving addiction treatment meet the diagnostic criteria for other mental illnesses.
In the proceeding sections, we talk about some of the most common co-occurring disorders that are encountered in people with alcohol and drug addiction. If you or a loved one is battling substance abuse, it can help to know what other mental health conditions may be present.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder experience frequent anxiety or panic attacks in the absence of any real danger. They can suffer from symptoms such as sleep disturbance, restlessness, and inability to function. Research shows that individuals with generalized anxiety disorder frequently self-medicate their anxiety symptoms with drugs and alcohol. For example, someone with recurrent anxiety attacks may abuse the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and end up becoming addicted to it. Some people rely on alcohol to deal with social anxiety.
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Depression is a mental health condition characterized by feelings of sadness, dejection, and hopelessness. It is estimated that 1 out of 3 Americans who struggle with substance abuse also have depression. Depression is up to three times more likely in people with alcohol and drug addiction compared to the general population. People battling depression often try to “drown their sorrows” in alcohol or get high on drugs to escape from their negative thoughts. The use of alcohol and drugs helps these individuals feel better temporarily, but ultimately leads to addiction and exacerbation of depression symptoms.
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Bipolar disorder is a chronic mood disorder in which the affected person experiences wide variations in mood, activity, and energy levels. People with bipolar disorder alternate between episodes of depression and mania. Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition and can last for a person’s lifetime. Up to half of all individuals who have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder develop problems with addiction at some point in their lives. The dramatic mood swings that affect such individuals make it more likely that they will self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to try and control their symptoms.
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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed violence or trauma. For example, a rape survivor can develop PTSD symptoms after an incident of sexual abuse. PTSD is common in military veterans who have returned from combat or areas of conflict. Symptoms typically consist of flashbacks, sleep problems, and thought distortions. Many people with PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 people with PTSD have a substance addiction. The risk of substance use disorders in people with PTSD is two to four times higher than in the general population.
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There are many types of eating disorders, the most common being anorexia and bulimia. In the United States, eating disorders affect approximately 30 million people (20 million women and 10 million men). These disorders are characterized by abnormal eating patterns. People of all ages and genders, including those with normal body weight, can develop eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are particularly common in adolescents who are under peer pressure to fit in. Studies have found that half the people with eating disorders also have substance abuse problems. The risk of substance abuse is five times more in people with eating disorders compared to the general population. Also, those who abuse drugs and alcohol are up to 11 times more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder characterized by symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized behavior. People with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are frequently unable to function socially, attend school or work, and maintain healthy relationships. Research is still ongoing, but there is evidence to suggest that the use of certain illegal psychoactive drugs can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, especially in teenagers whose brains are still developing. The daily use of marijuana by teens has also been linked to psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, increasing the risk by up to three times.
Treatment for Dual-Diagnosis Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
The toxic effects of many illicit drugs and alcohol can mimic the symptoms of mental illness, such as delirium, dementia, memory loss, mood changes, depression and anxiety, sleep difficulties, and sexual dysfunction. This makes it difficult to distinguish whether a person is suffering from a mental health condition or a substance use disorder. Oftentimes, the two co-occur and are intertwined. It can, therefore, be difficult to diagnose mental illness and addiction. What’s more, there can be worsening of mental health symptoms while receiving addiction treatment. For instance, a person who was using alcohol as a crutch for anxiety will not have the coping skills to deal with anxiety attacks once alcohol is out of the picture. Also, alcohol and drug problems can be resistant to treatment in people with co-occurring mental health conditions.
It is important to get treatment for both conditions as soon as possible. You should choose an addiction treatment facility that is staffed by clinicians and addiction specialists who have experience in treating mental illness. Concurrent treatment of both conditions is necessary at a dual-diagnosis treatment center for long-term sobriety and relief from symptoms of mental illness.
Discover Recovery is a leading addiction treatment center in Long Beach, Washington. We are staffed by a highly experienced team of board-certified addiction specialists and mental health professionals. We treat people with substance abuse problems who also have mental health disorders. We understand that treating one condition does not automatically improve the other. To be effective, the treatment must be designed to treat both disorders at the same time. Our approach is one of integrated treatment for addiction and mental illness because the two conditions impact one another.