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Breaking the Stigma: The Correlation Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Updated: May 26, 2023

Partners in crime



Substance abuse is nothing but an overdose of alcohol, prescription drugs, legal or illegal drugs, taken in the wrong way. Substance abuse falls under the less severity order when compared with addiction. With healthy habits and a disciplined lifestyle, it is easy to recover and set oneself free.

The linkage between substance use disorders (SUD) and mental health cannot be overlooked. Individuals dealing with substance abuse are very often diagnosed with mental illness, and those with the same follow the other way. A large percentage of adolescents are found to be diagnosed with some or other kind of mental ailment that demands attention. Most of the time, people with substance abuse problems are unable to figure out and accept that they are addicted to any particular kind of drug. Living in denial is the most common trait. SUD has a profound impact on a person’s brain and behavior.



The connection between substance abuse & addiction

Substance abuse among youth often makes way for a lot of problems at school, deteriorates health - physical and mental, leads toward poor relationships among peers, and adds to the overall stress. The consequences might be extraordinarily alarming and may even prove to be life-threatening, financially and socially draining.

Addiction is considered to be the most infamous category of substance abuse. An alcohol addict finds it extremely difficult to control the intake if it’s going overboard. Sometimes, the symptoms are very severe and may even lead to fatal ailments. When substance abuse has been going on for a while, comorbidity cannot be ruled out. The participating ailments include anxiety, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, etc. While genetics is the most infamous contributor whenever the underlying cause of an ailment is discussed, stress and trauma can be precursors to genes that are inherited through generations.

People with mental disorders might succumb to addiction, while addiction may give rise to mental illness. It’s like the Who came first, - chicken or the egg question. At times, an overdose of one or more drugs might account for the change in the brain's structure, thereby causing some kind of mental disorder.



Symptoms to look for

Recognizable Indicators of Substance Abuse:

  • Notable changes in behavior, such as decreased attendance or performance at work/school, frequent conflict or involvement in dangerous activities, and secretive or suspicious actions

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns, abrupt changes in mood, irritability or hyperactivity, and a general lack of motivation are all signs that something might be wrong.

  • Unfounded fear, anxiety, or paranoia and appearing unmotivated, alongside physical changes like bloodshot eyes, fluctuating weight, poor grooming, or peculiar smells on breath or clothing

  • Physical manifestations like tremors, slurred speech, or poor coordination, as well as social modifications such as sudden alterations in friend groups or pastimes, legal issues related to drug use, financial difficulties, and continued substance use despite adverse relationship effects.



The prevalence of comorbidity

Substance abuse and psychological well-being are two sides of the same coin. Abusing drugs can make mental health problems like depression and anxiety worse, and it can also make it more likely that someone will develop a new disorder like schizophrenia. People with addiction often have a comorbidity, which means they simultaneously have two or more mental health disorders. Mental health effects can vary depending on the type of substance used. For example, some can cause more anxiety, depression, or psychosis. Alcohol, for example, is a depressant that can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness, while stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can cause agitation, paranoia, and hallucinations. Psychosis and other problems with mental health have been linked to the use of marijuana. For effective treatment of both substance abuse and mental health issues, it is necessary to acknowledge the connection between them. When treatment addresses mental health problems and drug abuse, it can lead to better results and a better quality of life.


Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis and treatments for drug abuse and addiction require a multidisciplinary approach that uses various methods to help people get over their addiction. At the beginning of the diagnosis process, a full assessment of the person's physical, emotional, and social health is needed to make a suitable treatment plan. This may include screening tools, lab tests, and psychiatric evaluations.

Counseling, behavioral therapy, and medication are all possible forms of treatment, and all of them are tailored to the individual patient. Treatment plans for substance use disorders often include both medication and behavioral therapy. The medication helps ease cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms, and the therapy helps the patient change harmful ways of thinking and acting. During the healing process, counseling can also provide emotional and educational support for the individual and their loved ones.

It is important to treat mental health problems that can lead to drug abuse and addiction. It is also important to make sure that the care you give takes into account social and environmental factors that can affect the healing process. Support groups and community resources are also essential components of effective treatment.



Final word

Mental illness and SUD are interdependent in most cases. Treating them together under the same prognosis is the most suitable method to move forward. The reason is that since both ailments share a cause-and-effect relationship, the symptoms might overlap and may misguide the test results. With the use of comprehensive assessment tools, a more precise outcome can be expected.

Behavioral therapies are the best bet for treatment options for SUD and mental illness. Depending on the subject, a mix of therapies and medications may be the best choice. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy where the patient's thought process is challenged and questioned to help deal with a particular situation. Mindfulness is a part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which helps people control emotional outbursts and build better relationships. Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) is a way to contact the community for help through support groups. It is a community-based approach that targets individualized treatment. Medications: Over-the-counter medications are available for alcohol and nicotine addictions, which are also effective in treating multiple disorders.


The thumb rule remains the same: Connect, Consult & Heal!

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