How Addiction Can Affect Your Mental Health. Guest post written by Alex Moore.

How Addiction Can Affect Your Mental Health

mental health

Although most patients believe that mental illness and addictions (i.e. drug and/or alcohol abuse) are two different things, clinical reality shows otherwise. Called co-occurring mental health problems, the two are interdependent and, if left untreated, they could ultimately prove fatal.

In this article, we are going to discuss how addictions – mainly drug and alcohol abuse – impact patients’ mental wellbeing and the manner they interact with friends, family members, and co-workers.

A Few Considerations on Addictions

As you may already know, addictions come in various forms – drug addiction, alcohol addiction, addictions involving meds, sex, gambling, and the list can go on. From a neurological standpoint, an addiction can be defined as a brain disorder which leads to compulsive behavior, characterized by the need to consume rewarding stimuli (drugs, alcohol, tobacco) despite the patient being aware of their damaging consequences.

Keep in mind that addiction, even its most severe forms, is treatable.  With detox and the right kind of therapy, the patient can successfully overcome the need for harmful gratification.

However, this is merely the beginning of a long journey, a winding path where the patient must figure some things about himself and about their damaging relationship with the source of the addiction. There will be relapses, but everything can be overcome with the right mindset and peer assistance.

With these aspects in mind, let’s now take a closer look at the link between addictions and mental health.

Addictions and Mental Health Can Go Hand in Hand

Although it sounds boorishly simple, indeed, an addiction can lead to a mental health decline. The short end of the stick is also a very palpable reality.

Let’s start with the end. Usually, patients with undiagnosed mental health conditions seek refuge in one or more addictions in a futile attempt to “take the pain away” or “make it more bearable.”

A study published in medical journal JAMA Network suggests that around 50% of US adults diagnosed with severe mental disorders also have an addiction (drug, alcohol or both). Saying that the statistic is staggering would be an understatement.

As we have said, a mental condition can get even worse as a result of increased substance abuse, leading to a dual diagnosis. Most cases of dual diagnosis involve patients diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

Of course, given the fact that the two conditions are interconnected, establishing a correct diagnosis can be difficult, not to mention problematic in the area of treatment.

For instance, if a patient is diagnosed with a mental disorder such as bipolar disorder, the standard treatment (a combination of mood stabilizers and antidepressants) can be inactivated by the patient’s alcohol intake. On the other hand, drug abuse can ultimately lead to an increase in the number and intensity of psychotic episodes.

Addictions are often borne during times of hardship. For instance, a terminal diagnosis, an insurmountable sentimental affair, or any type of event that taxes our mental wellbeing, can push an individual further into addiction.

More than once you’ve heard about crestfallen lovers seeking refuge at the bottom of the bottle or those who have lost their job and their life perspective. From the outside, hardship and addiction may appear mutually exclusive, but there’s really a storm inside and the ship trapped is with no way of navigating to safety.

Unfortunately, the first to fall asunder because of addiction are the relationships with those you love. Inch by inch, the addiction will pervade every layer of interpersonal interactions.

You will tend to drift away from the ones you love and, perhaps, seem them as bloodthirsty tyrants whose sole purpose is to keep you away from the only thing that makes you happy, at peace with your inner demons, and as far <<away from the maddening crowd>> as possible.

Sooner than you think, everything seems worthless, fleeting, and disheveled, all except your source of ‘instant happiness’ – another bottle tossed in the garbage or another shot in the arm to take the pain away. Without realizing it, the memories with your loved ones will fade away, as though they were never really there.

Seeking Help

mental health

The perspective might seem dismal, but no one’s beyond hope. With enough determination and help, you can reclaim your life. The first and most important step you’ll need to take is to admit that you have an addiction and that you need help.

There are wonderful people out there who want to help you overcome this issue, so don’t push them aside.

If you have a mental disorder worsened by one or more additions, the first line of treatment is detoxification. There are many clinics around the United States that offer professional counseling services and methods like AA’s “12 Steps” to ease the passage to a sober life. As for the mental condition, after receiving a clean bill of health from the detox clinic, you should consult a psychiatrist.

Treatment could include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anxiolytics, and talk therapy. Please bear in mind that the road to sobriety and a mental illness-free life is hard and strenuous. Don’t get disappointed if you slip during treatment. A relapse is to be expected, but it is up to you to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than the disease.

Depending on the severity of your condition and comorbidity, your doctor will recommend alternative ways of recovery. Physical activity, for instance, is a natural mood enhancer and a great way to break the circle of addictions. Other recovery methods include:

  • Occupational therapy;
  • Self-education;
  • Knowing your triggers (the things that fueled your addictions);
  • Relaxation techniques (i.e. meditation, breathing techniques etc.);
  • Working on an adequate sleep schedule;
  • Tweaking your diet to include more healthy fats and smaller serving sizes.

Conclusion

Addictions and mental health are intertwined, with one influencing the other. An addiction is hardly what you might call healthy, but associated with a preexisting mental illness, can have catastrophic effects. If you think that you have an addiction, please refer to a mental health professional.

 

Alex Moore

Alex Moore is a psychology undergraduate and blogger who advocates for mental health awareness in general and a better understanding of schizophrenia in particular. You’ll typically find him contributing to SchizLife. Alex is very active on Twitter @alex_moore01