Does drug abuse lead to mental illness, or is mental illness the catalyst for drug abuse? The answer to that question is not entirely clear. One thing that is certain, however, is that mental illness and addiction are closely linked.
Correlation Is Not Causation
According to DrugAbuse.com, 8.9 million people in America have both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. This does not, by itself, prove that mental illness causes addiction or that addiction results in mental illness. What it does indicate is that when one condition is present, often the other one exists as well.
The relationship between drug addiction and mental illness is complex. The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that drug addiction is a mental illness because:
addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug. The resulting compulsive behaviors … are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.
On the other hand, mental illness can contribute to drug addiction. As a person seeks to find relief from a mental illness, whether diagnosed or not, he or she may turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the fallout of mental illness. Thus, it can be said that, in some cases, mental illness is a precipitating factor in drug addiction.
Chronic Drug Abuse Can Lead to Mental Illness
Conversely, drug addiction can be the precipitating factor in mental illness. For instance, taking drugs like Ecstasy alters brain chemistry, sometimes leading to anxiety and depression. Regarding the inadvisability of using drugs or alcohol to handle stress, U.S. News notes that doing so exacerbates pre-existing mental issues:
A glass of wine or a beer with a meal every so often is usually fine. But when those who suffer from mental illness think that throwing back a few will take the edge off or help quiet their mind, it’s often doing exactly the opposite — at least chemically. What’s mistaken as alleviating stress often results in added strain on the brain, which can lead to heightened depression.
How Alcohol and Drug Rehab Can Help
Regardless of which condition existed first, if you are coping with a dual diagnosis of addiction and mental illness, there is good reason to be proactive about your emotional, physical, and mental health and treat both conditions at the same time.
Many doctors are now turning to a dual treatment approach — a program that integrates detoxification of addictive substances with simultaneous identification and treatment of any coexisting mental health problems.
By addressing both sides of the issue, this dual approach to alcohol and drug rehab along with treatment for mental illness represents the best chance for both initial recovery and avoidance of relapse in the future. Drug rehab centers across the country are designing and managing integrated programs for addiction recovery and therapies aimed at addressing mental health issues as well.
We’re Here to Help
If you or someone you love deals with both addiction and a diagnosed mental illness, Harris House can help. Our in- and outpatient treatments are all designed to help you succeed in your journey toward sobriety and good mental health. Contact us today with your story. Let us help you get to that healthy place where you would like to be.