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Mental Health Disorders and Addiction
There is a clear connection between mental health disorders and substance abuse. The most common example of this is the intention of patients to medicate the mental health symptoms that they find disruptive or uncomfortable by using alcohol and drugs.
- The depressed patient who uses marijuana to numb the pain
- The patient suffering from social anxiety who drinks to feel more comfortable in social situations
- The patient who struggles with panic attacks and takes benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium in order to calm the symptoms or stop the attacks before they start
- The patient with low energy and lack of motivation who takes Adderall, cocaine or crystal meth to increase their drive to get things done
When treating addiction problems, you’re talking about one layer of issues in a veritable onion of psychological and psychiatric factors. While treating the addiction may be the first step in the process, it is by no means the last step. Often the very factors that caused the addiction in the first place still remain after a patient has detoxed, so the trick is to discover those factors while they’re still in rehab, so they can begin the process of healing on their own, and rebuild their lives.
Very often it happens that addictive behavior is the result of an underlying compulsion. For example, people who have bipolar disorder or anxiety issues find it very difficult to fall asleep. So drugs that act as sedatives, marijuana, alcohol, or opiates help those with sleep disorders get the rest they need. Over time, this becomes a compulsion and a ritual. Soon, every night they’re drinking or taking drugs.
Other folks who have social anxiety issues notice that the decreased inhibition of alcohol helps them relax and enjoy parties with friends. Over time they come to believe that if they want to have a good time, they’re going to need to booze up. The anxiety that they feel in social situations melts away, but gives rise to another anxiety in their daily lives. Soon, they’re medicating against that anxiety too. Paradoxically, the very thing that seems to be helping their anxiety – the alcohol – becomes the primary source of that anxiety.
While the majority of people can separate their work and play without consequence, mental illness and psychological distress greatly lower the probability that individuals will be able to manage their weekend fun appropriately. When this happens, they lose control of the substance, and can no longer regulate their intake. Suddenly, their day’s activities are being regulated by and around their intake of the substance.
When substance abuse and mental illness occur together, we call that a dual diagnosis.
What can be done to help folks with a dual diagnosis?
The first key is taking them out of the current circumstances that they find themselves in and getting them into a caring supportive rehab clinic where they can safely detox. A good rehabilitation program offers more than simply just a place to detox. There are consultations with psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and group sessions, where folks with addiction disorders can share their stories and learn from one another.
In most instances, anxiety, bipolar, and major depressive disorders can be treated very successfully. The issues that caused the addictive behavior in the first place can be addressed and controlled using medication prescribed by doctors, and not managed by the person themselves using street drugs. While admittedly these drugs are effective at temporarily keeping symptoms at bay, they obviously cause more problems than they solve. Folks who come to rehabilitation clinics with dual diagnoses can learn valuable coping strategies to manage their stressors without the need to self-medicate.