19 Oct Exploring the Connection Between Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse
Even when people occasionally partake in drinking alcohol or recreational drug use, they are usually doing it to deal with some form of negative emotion. Whether it is an episode of anxiety or simply having a bad day at work, on some level, the majority of people turn to drugs and alcohol for a ‘quick fix’. However, many people are prone to mental health disorders, which can make this solution extremely dangerous. Today, we are going to discuss the link between mental health disorders and substance abuse.
Unfortunately, when someone struggles with their mental health, substance abuse can seem more accessible than the help of a professional. So, more often than not a co-occurring disorder is developed. This is a dual diagnosis that often refers to someone with substance abuse disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder. It is vital to treat both of them with extreme care, empathy, and understanding. When someone is confronted by either of them, the most crucial thing they need to help them through is support.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Paradox
Substance abuse usually occurs when a person’s mental health is at a particularly low point. This is known as the self-medication hypothesis. Whatever the substance, it can provide temporary relief, or at least feel like it. However, the more often the person relies on this method of self-medication, the more likely they are to end up in a negative feedback loop. This means that instead of helping, the substance is worsening the person’s mental health. This is known as substance-induced anxiety, and if left untreated, it can lead to psychosis and hallucinations. It is imperative to spot this in the early stages because the longer it is left, the more difficult it is to undo.
How specific mental health disorders have a connection to specific substance use
It is essential to mention that while the chances of particular substances being used to self-medicate specific mental health disorders, this isn’t always the case. Substance abuse is a multifaceted issue that can also be influenced by genetics, environment, social networks, trauma, etc. We must all note that not everyone with a mental health disorder turns to the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and vice versa. Though there are patterns that occur linking the two, it is essential to get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.
Depression – When someone suffers from depression, they can turn to alcohol to temporarily alleviate their mood and escape feelings of sadness. However, continued alcohol use will eventually exacerbate depressive symptoms. Leaving a person much worse off than before. Another common substance for people with depression is prescription sedatives, which can numb a person’s feelings and induce sleep, but if these are misused, they will have adverse effects on a person’s mental health.
Anxiety and Panic Disorder – It is common for these sufferers to turn to drugs such as benzodiazepine (Valium) for their calming effect. However, these prescription drugs are highly addictive, and it doesn’t take long for tolerance to build up, leaving the user taking a terrifyingly dangerous amount that will worsen both mental and physical health. Anxiety sufferers may also turn to alcohol to relieve feelings of anxiety, but as soon as the effect wears off, they are left feeling far more anxious than before, leading them to need more.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – When people are suffering from PTSD, they can sometimes turn to alcohol to dampen flashbacks and negative thoughts. Another regular addiction linked to PTSD is opioids. These are used to numb emotional pain and distressing memories. Both of these are highly addictive and have terrible effects on mental and physical health.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – People with ADHD are sometimes prescribed stimulants. In mild prescribed doses, they can help people focus and improve their task management. However, they can be misused when people think that more is better. Not only is this highly unhealthy, but it is incredibly addictive and can lead to addiction.
Bipolar Disorder – With bipolar, people switch between two stages, manic and depressive. This means that they are more likely to self-medicate using various drugs, depending on the stage they are currently in. For example, during the manic stage, a person with bipolar might take cocaine to prolong and intensify feelings of euphoria, but maybe they will self-medicate with a sedative during the depressive stage. As well as developing harmful addictions, it can have highly adverse health effects, switching between the two.
Schizophrenia – There have been many direct links between schizophrenia and cannabis use, but it is often debated that cannabis at an early age can cause it. Often, a cannabis user with this sort of mental health disorder is likely to start abusing other substances, too. Someone suffering from schizophrenia must avoid any mind-altering substances as they can increase the chances of taking their mind to a bad place.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – Due to the interpersonal relationship challenges and fluctuating emotions that someone with BPD might feel, they may be at higher risk to try and self-medicate with various types of substances. It is essential for someone with BPD to regularly talk to a professional who will understand the signs of substance abuse.
Eating disorders – Individuals struggling with eating disorders are also more likely to partake in substance use. They might self-medicate with stimulants to suppress their appetite or increase their metabolism. In contrast, they might use alcohol as a way to deal with the emotional pain and numb any negative feelings related to their insecurities. Either way, the health implications can be harmful and lead to addiction.
The Early signs of substance abuse
If you are concerned that someone you know is affected by substance abuse, there are some tell-tale signs you can look out for. The earlier that it is spotted, the easier it will be to overcome a potentially life-threatening addiction. The signs to look out for are as follows:
- Deceptiveness or Secrecy
- Changes in Behaviour
- Sudden Changes in Physical Appearance
- A Shift in Social Circles
- Unprecedented Mood Swings
- Financial Struggles
- Increased Tolerance to the Substance
- Work or School Performance Suddenly Declining
- Visible Withdrawal Symptoms
- Changes in Sleep Patterns and Energy Levels
Remember that not all these symptoms mean that someone is suffering from substance abuse disorder, but if you begin to notice one or more of them in somebody you know, it is certainly worth talking about it. If the person refuses to talk, it might be a good idea to contact a medical professional.
Other variables that can increase the chances of substance abuse
It is important to note that mental health disorders are not the only thing that can lead to substance abuse. There are various social and emotional factors to consider. Sometimes, people are susceptible to peer pressure, their family history may involve substance abuse, they may have experiences with trauma, chronic stress, early exposure, or have been introduced to gateway drugs at a bad time in their life. Everyone who has been through this battle will have a different story, so it is vital never to make assumptions and to approach every situation with empathy and understanding.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
If you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to a professional today. At Calm Rehab, we understand how difficult those initial steps might be, so we want you to know that you have the support and understanding you need to fight this. At our drug rehab in Bali, we are devoted to sticking with our clients throughout the entire recovery process until we have helped them become the best version of themselves.