Understanding the Connection Between Mental Disorders and Substance Use

When someone struggling with a mental disorder also deals with substance use habits, or vice versa, the resulting circumstance is known as dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is highly common in situations of drug/alcohol abuse, compounded by mental disorders, for a number of reasons. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 45% of individuals experiencing addiction also face a co-occurring mental disorder. 

Unfortunately, dual diagnosis can lead to the worsening of either the addiction, the mental disorder or both. And when effectively treating dual diagnosis, it’s vital to treat not just the one problem, but both simultaneously.

How does dual diagnosis occur?

It doesn’t always happen that substance abuse comes first and a mental disorder follows. Sometimes, it’s the mental disorder which surfaces first, followed by substance use practices. There are a number of mental disorders which commonly co-occur with substance abuse, including: 

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia 

Self-medication via substances is a dangerous attempt to fix the mental problem. Ultimately, any attempt to subdue mental health symptoms through substance use only results in a worsening of the entire situation.

Individuals facing ADHD or BPD are more likely to use substances as a means to cope with symptoms, a response which can lead to addictive habits. A high percentage of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder report alcohol use as a means to self-medicate and numb the effects of PTSD. As time progresses and mental health concerns are left untreated, self-medication can lead to a dangerously high frequency of drug or alcohol use, or even overdose. 

Additionally, it might be the substance use which occurs first and is followed by a co-occuring mental disorder. Substance use changes the way in which the brain operates – an addiction is quite literally a rewiring of the brain. This will have a drastic effect on the functions of the brain and can lead to a number of mental disorders. 

Why does dual diagnosis happen?

Research continues to suggest that the probability of dual diagnosis, as long as either mental health concerns or substance use habits already exist, are high. For example, those diagnosed with a mental illness are four times more likely to participate in alcohol use habits, while those struggling with substance abuse are two times more likely to develop a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

But how does this co-occurring condition happen in the first place? There are a few possibilities, including genetics as a predisposition for addictive behavior; trauma or stress which prompts either a mental illness or an addictive behavior in order to cope with the environment; substance usage at an early age which triggers usage again later in life; or mental illness symptoms as a result of drug usage, such as worsened schizophrenia as a result of marijuana use.

Treatment for dual diagnosis

For clients experiencing dual diagnosis, it’s critically important that both issues are treated. Relapse is even more likely if only mental health concerns or substance use concerns are treated in isolation.

Diagnosis can be difficult. It can be challenging to tell whether issues stem originally from substance abuse, or whether mental health issues are to blame for symptom origination. Those psychiatrists who understand the challenges of dual diagnosis and its treatment, including those we trust at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling, are the most effective at helping clients progress through the treatment they need for both issues.

Dual diagnosis can sound intimidating, treatment can feel overwhelming. That’s why at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling we make it our goal to deliver peace of mind alongside world-class dual diagnosis treatment. Through therapy sessions tailored specifically to the needs and story of each of our clients, relief from dual diagnosis is more than possible. We encourage you to call 1-800-809-2925 or reach out online, to take definitive steps toward a brighter future today.