Emotional Wellbeing


Mandy Kloppers

The connection between mental health and addiction

People who struggle with substance abuse might also suffer from or be at risk of acquiring mental disorders, and vice versa, this is according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Medically, the name given to this condition is comorbidity. 

Drug abuse has reached unprecedented heights. In America, statistics from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services show that over 7.9 million people are addicted to drugs, and 43.6 million have mental disorders. Of these, over 7.5 million suffer from both substance abuse and mental disorders at the same time.  

Mental health and drug abuse 

Someone who has a history of substance abuse may experience mental health issues such as irritability, paranoia, or depression. People who suffer from mental disorders at times tend to use drugs to self medicate symptoms like sleep deprivation and low self-esteem. The drugs work to block the pain and alter the mood temporarily. In some cases, drug use only serves to make a mental disorder worse — for example, a person who suffers from depression and decides to take alcohol, a known depressant. The drug magnifies the already pre-existing condition and makes the mental disorder symptoms worse. 

Effects on an individual  

Both mental disorders and drug abuse have devastating effects on an individual, but when they are combined, they can be fatal. It is crucial that the affected person gets treatment early to avoid a disorder giving life to a new one.  

In some situations, a person who has an existing mental disorder may end up addicted to the medication he was given to treat the condition. Such was the case involving Purdue Pharma, a known manufacturer of OxyContin. They misled doctors and patients into believing that their medication was less addictive than the rest of the opioids in the market. Through an Opioid Law Suit, they were taken to court and forced to part with 600 million dollars.  

 Treatment Plan 

For a person who has been screened and diagnosed with both substance use and mental disorder, the right cause of action is to treat both conditions separately. A treatment plan would consist of detoxing first to isolate the symptoms being caused by both disorders. They will have to be monitored during the withdrawal phase since it can get very severe, and it is during this stage that the patient has the highest chances of a relapse. Due to the dependence on the drug, they might crave a fix just to get out of the torture they are going through during withdrawal. 

The situation becomes even direr when the individual has a mental disorder that is life-threatening, such as suicidal thoughts or psychotic behavior. Once the person is sober, there is a need to teach the individual tolerance skills and coping mechanisms to ensure the recovery is permanent. The patient can then join support groups, be given psychiatric medication, or get psychotherapy support to help them on their road to full recovery.  

People with substance abuse and mental disorders need a lot of care and supervision. The chances of one condition fuelling another are always high, and its effects can be devastating. But there is hope for the person to live a full and happy life, free from substance abuse. Early screening and intervention are crucial if the problem is to be arrested quickly. Every day that passes, the individual is at risk of diving deeper into an abyss that might be difficult to pull him out of.  


Photo by Riccardo Fissore on Unsplash