Seeking treatment for a mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD) is not an easy task. While each condition has its challenges and difficulties, what happens when the two conditions influence each other? Mental illness impacts SUD significantly and vice versa. Before a person can heal from both, they must first understand how each condition functions separately as well as how overlapping symptoms can affect the trajectory of healing and recovery.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, “Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.” Multiple factors can contribute to the development of SUD. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) expounds, “The exact cause of substance use disorder is not known. A person’s genes, the action of the drug, peer pressure, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and environmental stress can all be factors.”
Just as each individual is unique, each SUD varies from person to person. No two SUDs are alike, and the intensity of addiction, frequency of substance use, and side effects can differ greatly. Furthermore, substance abuse is often the result of a deeper problem, such as an untreated mental health disorder or a lack of healthier coping mechanisms for stress.
The NLM explains, “Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.”
Mental illness can include conditions such as:
Like SUD, there is no one underlying cause of mental illness. However, unresolved trauma and biological risk factors are known to influence the development of mental illness. It is important to note that trauma is subjective and personal. What is considered traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for someone else. Similarly, mental illness and associated symptoms vary from person to person, and no two illnesses are identical.
Mental illness impacts SUD, as they often coexist simultaneously. When two diagnoses influence each other, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis or comorbidity. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “Three main pathways can contribute to the comorbidity between substance use disorders and mental illnesses:”
- Common risk factors can contribute to both mental illness and substance use and addiction.
- Mental illness may contribute to substance use and addiction.
- Substance use and addiction can contribute to the development of mental illness.
Diagnosing mental illness and SUD is tricky. They both have similar symptoms by themselves, and the symptoms of each can become exacerbated when they coexist. This is why it is vital to work with licensed clinicians when receiving a diagnosis, like the ones at Sage Recovery. We have extensive experience diagnosing and treating both mental illness and SUD.
Experienced clinicians recognize that SUD is typically a symptom of a deeper issue. For example, as a result of unresolved childhood trauma, someone with SUD might be using alcohol and other drugs to cope with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. If the trauma and anxiety are never addressed, there is a greater risk of SUD relapse. However, if clinicians use a whole-person approach to treatment, every aspect of the patient’s life will be addressed. Body, mind, and soul care are essential in the healing process and, if any aspect is ignored, it will continue to demand attention throughout recovery.
As previously discussed, each mental illness presents its own, unique symptoms, so no two diagnoses are exactly alike. Every person has different triggers, trauma, and emotions that impact the cause of SUD. In addition, the intensity, frequency, and types of substances used vary from person to person. As a result, there isn’t exactly one diagnosis that inevitably leads to SUD. However, some statistics reveal that individuals with certain mental illnesses tend to use certain types of substances.
For example, NIDA reports, “Patients with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use disorders than the general population.” In addition, NIDA also states, “Research indicates that 43 percent of people in SUD treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers have a diagnosis or symptoms of mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety.”
As previously discussed, it is vital to work with trauma-informed licensed clinicians who have experience in treating mental illness and SUD. This might result in establishing a collaborative care team of multiple clinicians who specialize in certain areas, ensuring the patient’s treatment is comprehensive. Here at Sage Recovery, we know that effective treatment methods vary by the clinician and each individual’s needs. As a result, some common techniques we offer include:
Recovering from SUD can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here at Sage Recovery, our master’s-level clinicians are here to help you heal. Our empathetic and caring staff are highly trained to provide trauma-informed care, individual counseling, and innovative treatments that work for your specific needs. We believe there are multiple pathways to recovery and, as result, our clinicians specialize in a variety of treatments. Ranging from traditional techniques such as EMDR, DBT, and CBT, or complementary ones like yoga, equine therapy, and art therapy, our clinicians are prepared to walk this healing journey with you. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 when you’re ready. We’re here to support you.