Exploring the Link Between Addiction and Mental Health

There is a complex relationship between mental illness and addiction. In order to ensure the best outcome, addiction treatment must focus on both conditions simultaneously, following a proper diagnoses.

 The Dance Between Addiction and Mental Illness

“Mental illness and alcoholism or drug abuse interact in a complex dance,” says James Garbutt, MD, professor of psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Mental illnesses can increase the risk for alcoholism or drug abuse, sometimes because of self-medicating. On the other hand, alcoholism can lead to significant anxiety and depression that may appear indistinguishable from a mental illness. Finally, one disorder can be worse than the other.”

Mental Conditions

Particular mental conditions are often associated with drug and alcohol dependency. These include:

  • Depression – In some cases, people may begin abusing drugs or alcohol in an effort to mask depression symptoms. Female addictions are often linked to depression, but it is also found in male addicts.
  • Bipolar Disorder – Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder – a condition that causes alternating cycles of elevation and depression – often attempt to balance the extremes with alcohol.
  • Anxiety – Alcohol abuse is very common is women and men with anxiety disorders.
  • Schizophrenia – Psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, may lead to substance abuse in an effort to ease the associated symptoms.

Patients struggling with co-occurring addiction and mental health issues are often less inhibited by high-risk behaviors. “Individuals with a mental disorder could have impaired judgment and consume higher amounts of a drug or alcohol,” says Dr. Garbutt.

Underlying Causes of Co-Occurring Disorders

Additional factors that may explain the frequent coexistence of mental illness and addiction include:

  • Genetics – Genetic factors appear to account for a percentage of those struggling with both a mental disorder and substance abuse issues. Studies comparing fraternal and identical twins found more instance of co-occurring disorder among identical pairs, indicating that genetics likely play some part in the equation.
  • Chemical Deficiency – Neuro-chemical factors were also common among co-occurring patients. A reduced amount of serotonin in the brain may be the reason why anxiety and alcoholism coincide so regularly.

What is the Relationship?

Though the answer is not entirely clear, we do know that the connection works both ways. Those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction often develop mental illnesses. Those struggling with mental illnesses are more prone to develop substance abuse problems.

More Information?

If you’d like to learn more about the correlation between addiction and mental health, Summit Behavioral Health is the place to turn. Our addiction specialists are here to answer any questions you may have and to get you on the path to recovery! Call today and find out why Summit Behavioral Health is a leader in the industry!

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