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How Often Do Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Occur Together?
An individual with both a mental illness and a substance abuse issue, whether alcohol or drugs, is considered to have dual diagnosis. It’s impossible for this type of patient to recover fully without treatment for both disorders. Although many may think this type of diagnosis is rare, it’s actually very common. According to a report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have a serious mental illness.
Often, depressive disorders are associated with a substance abuse problem, including both depression and bipolar disorder. Other common mental illnesses associated with substance abuse include anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Those already diagnosed with a mental illness of any sort are at a higher risk of becoming an abuser of alcohol or drugs.
Mental Illness and Substance Abuse: Which Comes First?
It’s not always clear whether the mental illness causes the substance abuse or vice versa. Often the psychiatric issue will develop first, but this isn’t always the case. Those suffering from depression, panic, or anxiety will often turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. This can cause strong side effects and worsen mental illness in the long run.
On the other hand, abuse of drugs and alcohol can increase a person’s risk of mental illness, ultimately pushing the user over the edge. When coupled with other factors, such as environment and genetics, drug dependency can cause a mental disorder. Often when the substance abuse comes first, it starts during adolescence and continues into adulthood, which may cause emotional issues leading to mental illness.
How Can a Physician Treat a Person with both Mental Illness and Substance Abuse?
Most physicians will treat both issues simultaneously, since they are often linked. The first step in the treatment process, which is common for any substance abuser, is detoxification. This process will allow the body to cleanse itself of the alcohol or drug and physically heal. Ideally, the process of detoxification will take place with medical supervision, and it can take many days or even weeks to complete. With new developments in medication, doctors can reduce the pain of going “cold turkey” and ease substance abusers through the withdrawal period.
It’s very common for a dual diagnosed patient to relapse, and many believe this is part of the recovery process. Setbacks happen and patients must remember that it’s not about the setback, but how he or she will recover. Many physicians recommend peer support, which is proven to help with the recovery process.
Helping Someone You Love with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
If you believe someone you love suffers from both substance abuse and mental illness, they need help. However, this process can be a roller coaster, and you will need to accept what you can and cannot do. You cannot force the person into treatment, but you can set a positive example and help encourage the person you love to get help. It’s important to seek support, set realistic boundaries, educate yourself, and be patient. The road to recovery is long and cannot be reached overnight.
If you or someone you love is suffering under the yoke of addiction and/or mental illness, contact us today for free information on how you can help.