Mental Health Disorders and Their Influence on Substance Abuse Problems

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The Journal of the American Medical Association released a publishing stating that about 50 percent of people who have a severe mental disorder also suffer from substance abuse. Of those who abuse alcohol, 37 percent have a serious mental illness, while 53 percent of those who abuse street drugs have a mental illness as well. These findings go to show that mental health illnesses go hand in hand with substance abuse issues.

Unfortunately, many substance abusers who receive treatment don’t receive the proper type. Sure, any type of treatment for substance abuse is better than none, but when an underlying mental health disorder is present, it is imperative that dual diagnosis services be acquired. Such services treat both mental health disorders and substance abuse issues simultaneously, which helps improve a person’s chances of achieving and maintaining long-term recovery.

Why exactly do mental health disorders correlate so strongly with substance abuse issues? The answer is quite simple, and even more clear to understand. People with serious mental health illnesses usually require some type of medication and/or therapy. When they don’t have such medication or therapy, they tend to medicate themselves. This includes turning to alcohol or drugs to alleviate the symptoms associated with whatever mental health disorder it is that they suffer from.

Take for example a person who is depressed. To numb the pain, he or she may use marijuana. Or think about a person who suffers from high levels of social anxiety. This person may abuse alcohol as a way to feel at ease when in social situations. There are also people who abuse benzodiazepines because they have anxiety or panic attacks. And then there are those who have low levels of energy due to depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health illnesses who abuse stimulants, such as Adderall or crystal meth.

As these people medicate themselves with their own choice of substances, they usually end up becoming addicted and/or dependent on them. To break the cycle of addiction, treatment must be acquired, and proper medication and therapy from medical professionals will be of the utmost value.

The development of an addiction to a substance can start at anytime during a person’s life, however, being that mental health disorders usually make themselves present during adolescence, this is a good indication as to why substance abuse also most commonly starts in people’s lives during this time. During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is still undergoing changes in a person’s brain, which is the part that helps assess situations and make wise decisions. When this part of the brain is disrupted by drug abuse, the choices made by a person tend to have long-lasting consequences — sharing needles, having unprotected sex, breaking the law, etc.

Any time a person suffers from a substance abuse disorder, it is pertinent to be assessed for mental health illnesses. If it is found that an illness is present, both disorders should be treated through dual diagnosis services.

The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. Pasadena Villa’s Outpatient Center in Raleigh, North Carolina offers partial hospitalization (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (PHP). If you or someone you know may need mental health services, please complete our contact form or call us at 407-215-2519 for more information.


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