Any form of addiction is bad, be it to drugs or alcohol. Addiction can alter the functioning of the brain at multiple levels. The development of compulsive drug-seeking behavior can weaken their ability to control impulses even if they are aware of the negative consequences. A person dependent on substances can also suffer from other mood disorders or mental illnesses, also called co-occurring disorders. Addiction and substance abuse have a direct relationship, and the presence of one can deteriorate the other.
Comorbidity of drug addiction and other mental illnesses
NIDA’s Comorbidity report shows that individuals with anxiety disorders face double the chances of suffering from drugs compared to the general population. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 50 million American adults. The complex relationship between addiction and mental illness makes it difficult to ascertain the definite nature of their interplay. Even if drug use disorders are observed with mental disorders, it does not indicate that one is responsible for the other. According to research, there is definite comorbidity between addiction and mental health as specified below:
Drug abuse may conjure signs of some other mental issue
Regular drug abuse can significantly increase the chance of psychosis among users. This is particularly visible in the case of marijuana users.
Mental disorders can push an individual toward drug abuse
Patients with anxiety or depression may be tempted to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs to temporarily deal with the symptoms. This may emerge from the need to self-medicate.
Some other factors that can contribute to comorbidity are as follows:
Genetic factors can make an individual susceptible to both mental disorders and addiction. Otherwise, it can increase the risk of the second disorder after the onset of the first one.
Environmental factors that can trigger stress or trauma due to various situations like physical or sexual abuse and early exposure to addictive substances can result in the development of addiction and other mental disorders later.
Exposure to traumatic experiences during childhood can have a significant impact later. Similarly, early exposure to drugs can rewire the brain, which increases the chance of mental disorders. And early symptoms of a mental disorder can increase the risk of drug use later in life.
Various functions in the same brain regions
Many parts of the brain perform multiple functions that can concentrate in one region. For instance, regions linked to reward and stress can get affected by drug abuse and can display abnormalities in patients with specific mental illnesses.
Diagnosis and treatment of comorbid conditions
In view of the prevalence of comorbidity between drug use disorder and mental disorders, an extensive approach is required to identify and ascertain both components. Individuals who are in need of treatment for either of the disorder should be analyzed for both and treated accordingly.
Various behavioral therapies and specific medications for opioid, alcohol, and nicotine addiction can be used effectively for treating comorbid conditions. It is also important to consider the patient’s age, drug of abuse, medical history, etc., before proceeding with the line of treatment.
Substance Use Disorders
Substance use disorders can refer to substance use or substance dependence.
Symptoms of substance use disorders may include:
- Behavioral changes, such as:
- Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
- Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
- Using substances in physically hazardous situations such as while driving or operating a machine
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
- Lacking motivation
- Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
- Physical changes, such as:
- Bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Deterioration of physical appearance
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
- Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
- Social changes, such as:
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
- Legal problems related to substance use
- Unexplained need for money or financial problems
- Using substances even though it causes problems in relationships
Recovering From Mental Health Problems and Substance Use
Someone with a mental health problem and substance use disorder must treat both issues. Treatment for both mental health problems and substance use disorders may include rehabilitation, medications, support groups, and talk therapy.