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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Addiction and mental health conditions often overlap. Learn how these disorders are connected, find support, and read personal stories from people who have been there.

Mental Health Disorders and Substance Use Disorder often go hand-in-hand

Mental health and substance use are intricately connected with each other. According to SAMHSA, 19 million Americans live with both substance use and a mental health disorder. When these occur within the same person, they’re referred to as co-occurring disorders. 

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People with mental health struggles are more likely to develop substance use disorder. This may be because people living with anxiety, depression, and other illnesses are turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. On the flip side, substance use disorders can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders. The brain’s chemistry can be altered by drug and alcohol use, leading to mental health problems. 

For recovery to be successful, co-occurring disorders need to be taken into account. And they need to be treated simultaneously. It’s been shown that addressing co-occurring conditions decreases the risk of relapse

How is Substance Use Connected to Mental Health?

It's important to understand how mental health disorders are connected with substance use.  

Anxiety 

Large "2x" underneath blurb saying individuals with anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse as the general population

We all feel anxious from time to time. But those with an anxiety disorder experience intense, prolonged bouts of anxiety and nervousness. They may struggle to keep jobs and maintain relationships. They can withdraw from social connections and places that trigger their disorder. 

Anxiety disorders and substance use frequently co-occur, with people using drugs or alcohol to numb their symptoms. Substance use can provide temporary relief from anxiety. However, it can also worsen symptoms in the long term and trigger panic attacks. This can make the cycle of substance use and anxiety difficult to break. Treating both disorders simultaneously with therapy and medication can improve outcomes. 


Depression 

Depression is often characterized as unhappiness, hopelessness, a loss of interest in hobbies, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, oversleeping, fatigue, and anxiety. Depression can be caused by trauma, hormonal shifts, environment, and other factors. Depression can be debilitating and it can be exacerbated when substances are introduced. Similar to anxiety, substance use may help take the edge off symptoms at first. However, over time they can worsen depression symptoms. 


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder manifests as periods of mania followed by periods of deep depression. This condition causes extreme shifts in mood, attitude, behavior, and energy. These manic highs and depressive lows may last for a long time. This can greatly impact an individuals professional and personal life. 

Some individuals with Bipolar disorder use substances as a way to manage mood swings. Unfortunately, these substances can interfere with the effectiveness of prescribed medications.  Ultimately this makes it more challenging to stabilize their moods and manage symptoms. 

Eating Disorders

25% of people with binge eating disorder also have a co-occurring substance use disorder

Eating disorders and addiction have a unique relationship. They’re both maladaptive coping mechanisms for everyday stressors. These conditions are also closely interlinked. 25% of individuals with binge eating disorder also have a coexisting substance use disorder. 

Eating disorders impact individuals of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and sexual orientations. They are defined as illnesses that cause disturbances in one's food intake. This can lead to emotional distress that is then numbed using substances. For example, those with anorexia may use stimulants to suppress their appetite. Those with binge eating disorder may become dependent on cannabis to calm down after a binge. 


Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia is a highly stigmatized disorder and a lot of misinformation surrounds it. People with schizophrenia can experience delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and reduced emotional expression. Other symptoms can include social withdrawal, apathy, and lack of motivation. The causes of schizophrenia are not fully understood. But it can be influenced by brain chemistry, genetics, and environmental factors. 

There is a significant overlap between people with schizophrenia and addiction. Individuals with schizophrenia have higher rates of addiction compared to others. This may be because people with schizophrenia are self-medicating with substances. This can lead to a cycle of dependence. Not to mention, it can also interfere with medications used to treat schizophrenia. This makes it even more diffcult to manage symptoms and achieve recovery. 

 

PTSD and CPTSD

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that stems from a life-threatening event or psychological trauma. This can include combat, violent crime, natural disasters, and other upsetting events. PTSD often causes nightmares, intense flashbacks, anger, and a feeling of being "on edge." Due to this, sufferers often avoid situations that may remind them of the traumatic event. 

Complex PTSD (CPTSD) can be caused by experiencing recurring or long-term traumatic events, usually correlated to relationships. The symptoms of CPTSD are similar to those of PTSD. They also include feelings of worthlessness, extreme shifts in emotion, and relationship problems. 

There is a high prevalence among people with PTSD who also experience addiction. Many use substances to numb their emotions or assist with falling asleep.  Effective treatment can include a combination of medication, EMDR therapy, and support groups. 

 

Resources for Mental Health and Addiction

In 2021, 94% of people aged 12 or older with a substance use disorder did not receive any treatment. This is a heartbreaking statistic. Everyone should have access to high-quality addiction care that is tailored for their specific needs. Recovering from one disorder can be difficult, but recovery can feel impossible when you have co-occurring disorders. That’s why we’ve gathered all the resources you need in one place. 

Below, you can learn about how these disorders are connected, locate treatment options, speak to crisis counselors, find local support groups, and read personal stories from people who have been there. Remember: with the right support, people can and do recover.  

Emergency Helplines

  • SHATTERPROOF Crisis Textline: Text SHATTERPROOF to 741741 to speak with a compassionate, trained Crisis Counselor. Confidential support 24/7, for free.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273- 8255 to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7. You can also reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988. 

Support Groups & Therapy

  • The Daily Pledge is a free, online support group and social community created by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, for anyone affected by drug and alcohol addiction.
  • Families Anonymous supports family members of people with a drug or alcohol addiction or with related behavioral health conditions.
  • National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network is committed to transforming the mental health of queer and trans people of color. 
  • NAMI Support Groups  are peer-led and offer participants an opportunity to share their experiences and gain support from other attendees. 

Treatment Options 

  • Atlas: helps people search for and compare addiction treatment facilities to find high-quality care for themselves or their loved ones.   
  • How to get Addiction Care through Kaiser Permanente: Kaiser Permanente offers a full range of evidence-based treatment options for adults and teens. 

How to Help a Loved One  

  • Addiction Lessons: One father discusses the lessons that he learned during his son’s journey through addiction and recovery. 
  • Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for helping a family member who is drinking too much, using drugs, or dealing with a mental illness, research shows that family support can play a major role in helping a loved one with mental and substance use disorders.

Information for those who are new to recovery

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