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Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

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The Correlation

         The correlation between substance use disorders and mental health disorders is significant and undeniable. It is estimated that up to 50% of those struggling with substance abuse have a mental illness. Illnesses such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder left untreated can be emotionally devastating and leave people wondering where to turn. The emotional toll of the illness often leads those who are afflicted to find relief in any way they can. Very frequently, these sufferers will turn to addictive substances as a way of self-medicating, thus increasing their dependency on those substances. This is especially true in those who have an undiagnosed mental illness. With no medical treatment available, addictive substances become the only way of dealing with the pain. The pain of these diseases then begins to feed into one another in a vicious cycle, leading sufferers down the dangerous path to full-blown addiction and very little control of their mental illness. Although this path may seem to lead to an inevitable destination, there is hope for those who struggle with both mental illness and addiction. When properly treated, sufferers can drastically improve the quality of their lives and regain a sense of peace.

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It is estimated that up to 50% of those struggling with substance abuse have a mental illness.

What Came First?


In many cases, self-medicating for a mental illness leads to severe addiction. The pain of an undiagnosed mental illness can influence every part of an individual’s life. Everything from their family, career, and personal lives can be affected. This leads many to believe that mental illness is responsible for most addictions. 

However, it is possible that the ups and downs of drug addiction can mimic diseases such as bipolar disorder and depression coupled with anxiety. Most of the time, the two coexist together and cause a cycle that is incredibly difficult to break with no help. 

When an individual goes without getting the help they need, the individual begins to socially isolate themselves. Much like mental illness, isolation, and addiction go hand in hand.

If someone struggling with addiction begins to isolate, it becomes a much more dangerous situation. These individuals must seek care immediately. To get help with a drug addiction after this cycle is in full motion is the only way to break it. 

Therefore, getting help is vital for anyone trapped in the snare of addiction. Although the journey of healing is marked by many trials, those who do get help can find more happiness in their life. 

Depression & Addiction


Depression and addiction can coexist and feed into each other alarmingly well. Most individuals with depression have a biological predisposition that resists the effect of serotonin in their brains.

Serotonin is the chemical in our brains that helps us feel happy, content, and joyful.

When our brain receptors are predisposed to resist these chemicals, it can leave us feeling void of hope and cause us to spiral into depression.

When someone is in a severely depressed state, they will sometimes seek substances such as alcohol or drugs to numb the emotional pain they are experiencing.

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, thus providing an unhealthy escape to their suffering.

Some drugs, such as amphetamines, cocaine, and other uppers will boost dopamine in the brain, causing the individual to feel excited and even giddy. In other words, these substances are used as tools for self-medicating.

Depression and self-medicating are common in those suffering from the disease and prove to be a big obstacle in the recovery process.

However, no mountain is too high or valley too low for someone seeking to get help for addiction and depression.

If you have the help you need, you will find it much a much easier road than if you were on your own.


Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

The Cycle of Addiction

What Happens When My Loved One Relapses?


When your loved one relapses, it’s important that they get help as quickly as possible. A relapse can be the beginning of a downward spiral that undoes all the good that occurred during their rehab and treatment, or it can be a wake-up call that turns them back toward positive behavior quickly.

Many people in recovery fear relapse, even to the point of having nightmares about it. Your support in seeking help can be a key factor in your loved one’s decision to choose recovery again.

A relapse can be very difficult for you as well. As soon as you aware that your loved one has started to relapse, you need to draw firm boundaries so that you are not in anyway enabling them to acquire or use drugs again. This might mean taking away car keys or refusing to bail them out. Because a relapse is so hard on everyone involved, you should seek support and help as well.

PTSD & Addiction


Addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can coexist with addiction just as well as anxiety and depression but with a different perspective. PTSD is usually caused by an emotionally traumatizing event that may occur in someone’s life.

This scarring event can be experiencing anything from physical or emotional abuse to extreme violence or neglect.

After the moment of trauma has passed, sufferers of PTSD will sometimes get flashback memories of the event, which can trigger depressive episodes, panic attacks, and even suicidal urges.

To remedy their troubled minds, these individuals will abuse alcohol and drugs like Heroin, marijuana, or benzodiazepines. Drugs that will depress their brain and keep them from feeling anything at all.

The reason the perspective is different for PTSD is the existence of the event before the addiction begins. Most of the time, the event is ultimately what causes the addiction, rather than a mental illness.

Either way, if an individual is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction, they should seek help immediately. There is no reason to wait for the help you need now. There are resources and people available that can help you.


Treatment at ABTRS


More Information on ADHD and Addiction

When Saving Their Life Means Knowing What to Do: Resources for Heroin Relapses


If your loved one is recovering from heroin addiction and experiences an overdose, a special resource is available to provide immediate help: Narcan, also known by its generic name naloxone.

Narcan is a powerful tool in the effort to prevent overdose deaths. This life-saving drug is administered in emergency rooms, and in many states, Narcan kits are available at pharmacies without a prescription. In addition to standard injections, Narcan is available as a nasal spray or automatic injector so that anyone can administer it to someone in the middle of an overdose.

Narcan goes to work on the brain immediately, where it displaces the molecules of heroin binding to the brain’s neuroreceptors. Its rapid action counteracts the effect that heroin has on the brain stem, restoring the patient’s breathing in minutes.

If you are concerned that your loved one may be at risk of relapsing into heroin use, see whether you can keep a Narcan kit in your home to prevent the worst from happening. If your state doesn’t allow these kits, get your loved one to the emergency room immediately for this life-saving treatment.


Bi-Polar & Addiction


Bipolar disorder and addiction not only go hand in hand but have very concerning similarities in symptoms. Each disease is characterized by high periods and low periods in mood. They may feel happy and energetic one moment and be unable to control their sorrow the next moment.

This is very similar to when addicts are using compared to when they are not using, making it very hard to distinguish the two. However, many times bipolar disorder and addiction are comorbid.

In fact, an individual self- medicating for bipolar may do so to straighten out their unstable mood.

They may be using substances like cocaine or meth in the morning while drinking themselves to sleep at night. To get help for bipolar disorder, seek out a licensed clinical psychologist that can diagnose you and a psychiatrist that can prescribe you needed medication.

Although both illnesses individually are very painful, let alone having both at the same time, there is help and benefits to seeking recovery. Thanks to enhanced modern medicine, medication for bipolar disorder is very effective in calming mood swings.

By switching from self-medication to correctly administered medication, individuals struggling with both bipolar and addiction will find relief.


Helpful Resources


More on Mental Illness and Addiction


Treatment for Addiction and Substance Use


Finding treatments that truly help in the recovery process can be a long and frustrating road, let alone looking for these treatments require an immense amount of courage.

For those struggling with any mental illness, talking to someone is the first place to start. Make an appointment with a licensed mental health social worker, psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist.

They should help you or point you in the right direction of someone who can help you. Most frequently, those struggling with any of these illnesses typically benefit from psychotherapy, group therapy, and medication.

A popular type of therapy that is effective is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type involves delving into your thoughts and learning to control your behaviors by guiding your thoughts in the right direction.

When in this therapy, individuals tend to learn a lot about themselves.

Concepts such as self-esteem and lack of communication skills are discussed in depth to help the patient develop coping skills for what they may be struggling with.

Studies show that individuals who are in a therapy program who stick with it tend to recover more quickly and experience more success throughout the process compared to individuals not attending. There is always hope in recovery.

If you or a loved one are experiencing the trial of mental illness and drug addiction, do not hesitate to reach out for a helping hand. Call now for a free consultation from our admissions specialists.

They can help you to find the correct treatment that is right for you. Don’t wait to find yourself again, call now.


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A Better Today Recovery Services is an Arizona drug and alcohol treatment center that has been saving lives and healing families from addiction for over a decade. We pride ourselves on presenting factual, educational, and informational content to those who visit our site.

We hope that armed with this information you can make the best decisions for yourself or someone you love. If you are looking for treatment options, you can trust us to help you. Mental illness and addiction are high-risk situations that need swift and immediate intervention. Call us today.


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