Substance abuse and mental health problems often go together. It is sometimes the existence of mental problems which result in a person attempting to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. It is sometimes the case that the use of substances causes chemical changes in the brain which result in mental health problems. In the presence of both a substance abuse and a mental health disorder, it is hard to know which came first. It is known, however, that approximately half of those reporting a mental health problem also report a substance abuse addiction.
Substance-Induced Mental Health Problems
The first time that many individuals end up admitted to a psychiatric unit on a 5150 hold is on the heels of a drug or alcohol binge. Under the influence of some toxic substances, a person can begin to act very out of character. He or she may become depressed to the point of being suicidal, or may become angry to the point of being homicidal. A person under the effects of drugs or alcohol can become paranoid, and can report seeing or hearing things that are not actually there.
These types of manifestations of mental health problems can occur after a long binge of using the substance, or can occur spontaneously after getting your hands on a bad batch of drugs. They are compounded by other issues, such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and dehydration. All three of these physical conditions are often present in those who excessively use drugs and alcohol, which makes the chances of developing a mental health disorder high for an addict.
Apart from the very scary aspect of losing grip on reality as a result of substance abuse is another risk of being misdiagnosed. If you are meeting a mental health provider for the first time while experiencing severe mental health issues, the therapist or doctor is likely to diagnose the symptoms in-kind with your current experience. This can mean that you leave the hospital setting with a more permanent ascription, such as being diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
These diagnoses usually come with a prescribed set of medications, and you may find that you are prompted to take these medications for the rest of your life.
While psychiatric guidelines for treating mental health disorders do have specific classificationsfor mental health issues that are induced by substances, it is often very difficult for an emergency provider to discern which of the symptoms are only due to the drugs or alcohol. It is very important, should you find yourself in this scenario, that you are completely forthcoming about any substances ingested prior to your evaluation, and ensure that these details of your experience are taken into account.
Preexisting Mental Health Issues
A more subtle problem of substance abuse is the attempt of the addict to escape the pain of mental health problems through self-medicating. In this theory, the person who is abusing substances is doing so much for the same reason that a doctor might prescribe psychiatric medications. The substances are taken as a means of reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma. The obvious drawback to this form of self-medication is that dosages of drugs and alcohol are not regulated, and, in the case of illicit drugs, the contents of the substance are not standardized. This can mean that one experience can vary from another, and can eventually result in the development of additional mental health disorders.
Depression is the most common mental health disorder associated with substance abuse. While the substance may initially provide relief from the sadness and anhedonia that a depressed person can experience, using this form of escapism can become a double-edged sword. Most substances will provide a burst of pleasure for the user, only to be followed by a withdrawal that leaves him or her in a pit of depression which is deeper than before.
Self-medicating for problems of anxiety is similarly self-defeating. One study has revealed that over 20% of people abusing drugs and alcohol are suffering from a form of anxiety disorder. The ingestion of a substance can help an anxious person to feel more at ease, but this, too, comes at a cost. Over time, the brain and body learns to become dependent on the substance in order to relax, and this biological response is what forms the basis of addiction.
How to Overcome the Challenges
Whether your mental health issues are caused by, or precede, your addiction, the key is to eliminate the root of the problem. Most substance abuse treatment programs utilize the top-down approach to this end, through assisting the addicted person to first rid the body of the effects of the substances. Once the substances have lost their influence through detoxification, the real work of repairing the psyche can begin.
If your mental health problems have arisen as a result of substance abuse, you can expect it to take several weeks before the brain returns to baseline. For some, this baseline of functioning may be permanently altered, requiring the former addict to adapt to a new form of life. For fortunate others, the negative effects of the substance may permanently disappear after a matter of weeks.
For both the addict who developed acute mental health problems as a result of using, and the addict who uses to escape the mental health problems, there remains the issue of motivation. There is something that is lacking in the mind, emotions, and spirit of the addict, and the substances only provide a temporary promise of filling this need. A more permanent – and more healthy – solution is to seek therapy toward healing the underlying mental health issues which prompt the usage.
Several options for therapy treatment toward abstaining from substance abuse are available, and you can choose the method which speaks most intimately to your situation. Popular options for mental health treatment include Cognitive Behavioral, Solution-Focused, and Recovery-Oriented approaches toward healing. Search for your local options via the internet, or ask your current treatment team about further support for your continued journey of mental wellbeing.