How to Prevent a Mental Health Condition From Causing Substance Misuse

Life is stressful, there’s no way around it. You probably have a list of all the reasons why your job causes so much stress; you have countless demands on your time, especially if you’re responsible for driving everyone to and from school and practice; and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get it all done.

On top of that, approximately 1-in-5 Americans — 57.8 million people — live with a mental health disorder. So not only do many people have to cope with everyday stress, but they also have to cope with a mental health condition.

Understandably, this is a lot to live with, and sadly, it causes a number of people to seek out some form of unhealthy coping mechanism. The goal, then, is to be able to identify causes of stress, minimize them if possible and seek out the help necessary to properly address mental health concerns. 

Coping with mental health

Mental health conditions — including depression, anxiety, PTSD and OCD — come with a fair share of symptoms that cause a lot of grief to the individual. It is not uncommon that people will attempt to “treat” the symptoms on their own and turn to substance misuse as a means of handling them. 

Now, when we say substance misuse, we are not referring to full-blown addiction. Substance use, misuse and abuse/addiction — though seemingly interchangeable — are all different stages in using substances as a coping mechanism. 

Substance use and misuse – what’s the difference?

When talking about substances as coping mechanisms, there are different levels of usage, so to speak. Understanding these terms can help you know when use is being practiced normally, versus when misuse is occurring. 

Substance use is simply using a substance for its intended purpose. This includes coming home from work and having a glass of wine after a long day; it is taking the proper dose of ibuprofen to relieve a headache so you can sit through a meeting. You are using the substance, but not in a way that is unhealthy or improper.

Substance misuse “includes the illegal use of drugs and the inappropriate use of legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.” This would include episodes of binge drinking or drinking excessive amounts often. It would also include taking prescription medicine inappropriately, such as more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed.

Those who struggle with substance misuse most often can stop on their own and won’t experience any form of withdrawal effects. Still, it’s important to be aware of when misuse is occurring as addiction can form from these behaviors. 

Signs of substance misuse

Being aware of the signs of substance misuse can help you get the proper help if and when you need it and can be a good barometer by which you keep yourself accountable — meaning, if you start to notice these signs, it might be time to find a healthier means of coping with mental health concerns. 

Common signs of substance misuse include: 

  • Drinking more often or in greater amounts
  • Engaging in episodes of binge drinking, or not being able to remember pieces of the night/event, etc
  • Taking a higher dose of medication than prescribed, or taking it more frequently than instructed
  • Seeing more than one doctor in order to gain various medications
  • Taking prescription medications from friends or family members, or somehow using someone else’s prescription
  • Experiencing negative side effects, such as worsening mental or physical health complications
  • Finding that you need to drink more or take an increased dose in order to feel the same effects

Not everyone will experience the same exact symptoms, but by knowing what signs to look for, you can be more aware of substance misuse in your life, or in the life of someone close to you.

Prevention of substance misuse 

There are a number of ways you can prevent substance misuse from occurring in your life, including:

  • Seeking out the guidance of a counselor – If you’re using substances to cope with stress, or some other mental health condition, a counselor will be able to guide you toward the proper means of dealing with these stresses
  • Learning more about stress and mental health – If you struggle with anxiety, take the time to learn more about it; Where does it come from, what makes it worse, and what helps lessen the symptoms? Knowing these answers can help you manage it from a place of knowledge, not emotion
  • Removing temptation – If you know that you tend to drink too much after a long week at work, keep your home environment dry; if you don’t have any alcohol to turn to, you’ll be more likely to cope in a healthier way;
  • Talk to your friends – Sometimes simply vocalizing the stress occurring in your life is a good way to process it and begin dealing with it in a healthy manner
  • Take time to rest – Half of our stress is from not taking the time to rest, relax and do nothing; force yourself to clear your schedule once in a while and let your body do what it needs to recoup

Managing stress is hard, but not impossible. And it is a crucial part of properly coping with mental health conditions and preventing substance misuse. 

Need additional help?

If you need more help managing mental health conditions, reach out to Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling. Contact us to learn more.