Mental health and addiction

The relationship between addiction and mental health is complex, but getting help is simpler than people think

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. It is a day of raising mental health awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health issues. 

There is a mental health crisis in America, and addiction is the leading cause. Addiction and mental health challenges are closely related, with one often leading to the other. It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of people with substance use disorders also have a mental health disorder. This is known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. Often, a person with a mental health disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms.

The road to recovery from addiction and addressing mental health challenges can be long and difficult. But, with treatment and support, it is possible to find the power to change and grow. The tools found in recovery not only manage addiction, they are useful to manage mental health over all. Many people find gratitude that their recovery has given them wisdom and ability to handle all kinds of challenges. 

Is addiction a mental illness?

Is addiction a mental illness? It’s an important question to explore in the context of World Mental Health Day. The short answer is yes, but with some caveats.

Addiction is a complex disorder that affects both the brain and behavior, and can be considered a mental illness because it changes how you think and feel about yourself and your life. Additionally, addiction can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.

However, addiction is also considered a medical disorder because it is rooted in physical changes to the brain. Substance use disorders involve changes in the reward centers of the brain that cause cravings and compulsive behaviors. Substance abuse also affects physical health. 

Mental health issues and substance use disorders can be linked in a variety of ways. For example, people with mental health issues may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. On the other hand, long-term drug or alcohol use can cause physical and psychological damage that can exacerbate existing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Regular use of cannabis has been found to increase risks of anxiety or depression, and there is a link between using potent cannabis and developing psychosis or schizophrenia

The most common mental health issues related to substance use are bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. These issues can co-occur with a wide range of substance use disorders including alcohol use disorder, prescription drug abuse, and illicit drug abuse.

Society’s view of addiction and mental health

Society’s view of addiction and mental health is complicated. Too often, people with substance use disorders or mental health issues are seen as weak or lacking in character. This stigma is based on an outdated understanding of addiction and mental health challenges that fails to recognize them as real medical conditions requiring treatment and care.

The good news is that the conversation about addiction and mental health is changing, and more people are recognizing these conditions for what they are—treatable illnesses that can be managed with proper mental health care. A growing understanding of the biological basis of addiction and advances in evidence-based treatments have helped to reduce the stigma around both conditions, leading to greater acceptance by society.

World Mental Health Day is a great time to consider how we view addiction and mental health in ourselves and in society at large. We can commit to learning more and helping those who need it, including ourselves. 

Reducing the stigma

Reducing the stigma around addiction and mental health is essential for those in need of treatment to feel comfortable seeking help. We can all do our part to reduce the shame and fear associated with both conditions by educating ourselves on the realities of them, talking openly about them, and showing compassion for those who are living with them.

One way to reduce stigma is to simply be aware of how we talk about addiction and mental health. Avoid terms such as “crazy” or “addict” when describing someone with a substance use disorder or mental health challenge. Instead, use language that shows empathy and respect. Furthermore, make an effort to understand others’ experiences without judgement or assumptions.

We can also advocate for increased access to mental health services, addiction treatment and improved quality of care. By speaking up and taking action in our communities, we can work to ensure that everyone has access to the help they need.

The scope of the problem

The scope of the problem is significant. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 20 million Americans had a substance use disorder in 2018. That’s almost 10 percent of all Americans. Additionally, more than 44 million adults experienced a mental illness that same year. These numbers demonstrate why it is so important to reduce the stigma around addiction and mental health and ensure that those in need have access to quality care and mental health services.

It’s also essential to remember that addiction and mental health disorders can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, gender, or background. Everyone deserves access to the help they need to live healthy lives.

What are the barriers to getting help for addiction and mental health?

The stigma surrounding addiction and mental health can be a major barrier to getting help. People may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their situation, or fear being judged harshly by others. This lack of understanding and acceptance can make it difficult for those in need to reach out for the help they need.

Another barrier is the lack of access to quality care. The cost of treatment can be prohibitively expensive, especially if people don’t have insurance coverage or access to affordable options. Additionally, there is often a long waitlist for services, which can make it difficult to get help in a timely manner.

Finally, many people are simply unaware that treatment is available or do not understand what it entails and how it can help. 

Dual Diagnosis: Substance abuse and mental health

When it comes to addiction and mental disorders, dual diagnosis is an important factor to consider. Dual diagnosis refers to when someone has both a substance use disorder (SUD) and at least one mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. This type of condition is also known as co-occurring disorders.

Having both a SUD and a mental health disorder can be difficult to manage, as the two conditions interact with one another in complicated ways. For example, an individual with bipolar disorder may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms, leading to addiction on top of their existing mental health issues. Similarly, someone with an alcohol use disorder may develop depression or anxiety due to the chemical changes in their brain caused by the substance. Additionally, they may have to deal with feelings of guilt or shame due to the stigma surrounding their condition.

The good news is that dual diagnosis can be treated effectively with integrated care. In this type of treatment, the individual receives both addiction and mental health services simultaneously, allowing them to address both conditions at once. Integrated care is often the most successful form of treatment for those with a dual diagnosis, as it allows them to receive comprehensive support and improved quality of life.

Recognizing a dual diagnosis

When it comes to addiction and mental health, recognizing a dual diagnosis is key. The first step is understanding the signs and symptoms of both substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health conditions. 

For SUDs, some common signs include changes in behavior or appearance, such as increased isolation or neglect of personal hygiene; changes in sleeping patterns or appetite; and financial problems due to excessive spending on drugs or alcohol.

With mental health issues, some common symptoms include feelings of hopelessness or despair; difficulty concentrating; extreme fatigue; and recurring thoughts about death or suicide. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, it could be indicative of a dual diagnosis.

It’s extremely important to talk with a licensed counselor who is experienced in substance use disorders if you have concerns about substance use and mental health. Getting the right help is critical and can save lives from accidental or intentional overdose, a fatal accident, or other serious consequences. 

Effective treatment for mental health and substance use disorders

Despite the challenges, there is hope for those seeking help for addiction and mental health issues. There are a variety of treatments available that can address both conditions at once, including medication, counseling, and support groups. These therapies can help to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of relapse. 

Affect provides highly effective care for substance use disorders and helps coordinate care for mental illnesses. With an entire outpatient program delivered through a smartphone app, anyone can get support wherever they are without having to go to clinic. The app is built with the latest behavioral science and gamification with rewards to motivate recovery, known as “contingency management.” The whole program was designed to address all the barriers that keep people from getting the help they need and increase access to treatment

There is no “cure” for substance use disorders or mental illnesses. They are considered “chronic diseases,” conditions that people live with for their whole lives and must learn to manage, not unlike diabetes or other chronic medical conditions like heart disease. 

As the brain recovers from substance abuse, people gain clarity and are able to work on their mental health in a deeper and more meaningful way. Many people in recovery find gratitude that their journeys have given them tools and knowledge that helps them manage their mental health, leading happy and healthier lives overall with better physical health. And many pay it back and forward by helping others with what they’ve learned. 

It’s often said that helping others is the final stage of healing. Many of Affect’s team are in recovery themselves and committed their lives to helping others. 

Hope and healing in recovery

Recovery is possible with the right combination of treatment options and support from family and friends. It’s important to remember that everyone’s recovery journey is unique, so it’s essential to find the right approach for each individual. With patience and perseverance, recovery is within reach.

Addiction and mental health are closely related, and both conditions are often misunderstood and stigmatized. World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity to reflect on how we view these issues, and to commit ourselves to making sure those in need get the help they need. We can all do our part by educating ourselves on addiction and mental illness, talking about them openly, and advocating for better access to quality care.