Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

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Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

What Happens When Someone has a Mental Illness and Abuses Drugs?

pre-teen boy on the street

Substance abuse is sometimes treated differently than other mental illnesses. Some people have a mental illness, such as depression, and also abuse drugs. This is called a co-occurring disorder. It can also be called dual diagnosis. According to the U.S. government, almost 8 million people have these disorders (SAMHSA, 2014).

People with co-occurring disorders usually have more difficulties than those with either a mental illness or substance abuse disorder on their own. They are more likely to get in trouble with the law. They are also more likely to experience homelessness. People with these disorders usually have worse symptoms from both disorders. When you add substance abuse to a mental illness, the drugs can make the mental illness worse.

What Causes Co-Occurring Disorders?

People with mental health conditions may turn to drugs and alcohol to feel better when they are sick. This is known as poor coping skills. The drugs and alcohol may make the person feel better for a little while, but eventually they feel worse. This is because these drugs change the chemicals in the brain. This actually increases the symptoms of the mental health condition once the drugs wear off. This starts a cycle of drug use and mental health symptoms that get worse and worse. 

How Do I treat Co-Occurring Disorders?

Some people see a different therapist or doctor for substance abuse than they do for mental health conditions. This usually is not the best idea. People do best when one doctor helps with both. This is called integrated care. This means that the substance abuse and mental health treatment are combined. This is best because the reason a person uses drugs is usually connected to their mental health symptoms. These therapists will usually help a person learn new ways to feel better without drugs and alcohol. By learning healthy coping skills, people can live happier and healthier lives.