guy talking about his addictionsThe Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains a database of 11,023 substance abuse treatment facilities in the United States; only 4,683 of them are equipped to manage both addiction and mental illness.

Furthermore, some rehab centers will claim to have the capability to treat mental health disorders, but they won’t have the appropriate staff to back up those claims. While it is sufficient for licensed therapists to counsel those in recovery, addicts who have issues of co-occurring mental illness need to be treated under the care of an experienced psychiatrist or other prescribing physician, as the majority of cases will require some form of medication. Substance abuse is considered a mental health issue in its own right, but it isn’t viewed as an organic mental illness the way that disorders like schizophrenia and personality disorders are.

Substance abuse

Substance abusers may drink or use every day or less frequently, but their drug and alcohol abuse can wreck their lives from the inside out. They might abuse hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, or milder substances like marijuana. Some are heavy drinkers while others identify more with functional alcoholism.

The World Health Organization describes a substance abuser as someone who engages in the use of harmful drugs or alcohol – substances that pose dangerous risks to health. You aren’t alone. As of 2012, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids accounted for 23.1 million addicts living in the United States.

It is not thought that one is born with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, unless of course there has been prenatal substance abuse. DrugWarFacts reports prenatal drug use was steady around 5.4 percent between 2012 and 2013 for women aged 15-44, and rates of prenatal alcohol use totaled 8.5 percent from 2011-2012. Aside from such circumstances, substance abuse starts out as a learned and voluntary behavior.

Depending on the substance being ingested, tolerance and addiction may form within mere weeks — as it does with some prescription drugs like benzodiazepines — or it could take a more prolonged period of use, as is usually seen with alcoholism. Addiction is treatable, but not curable.

Mental illness

Around 42.5 million Americans struggle with at least one mental health disorder, Newsweek reports. Among them, 29 percent of them abuse drugs or alcohol, per Helpguide. Mental illness may make it hard to trust your own feelings and intuition. You might have episodes of rage and violent mood swings or feel utterly low and unable to get out of bed. Mental health ailments don’t just impact your mind either.

  • For example, individuals who suffer from depression can experience a wide range of physical symptoms, including:

    • Physical aches and pains
    • Loss of appetite or strong cravings and episodes of binge eating
    • Lethargy and extreme fatigue
    • Gastrointestinal problems
    • Poor motor skills

    Trauma to the brain has also been proven to have an effect on mental health and can trigger the development of debilitating illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • PTSD affects 5.2 million US citizens between the ages of 18 and 54, per Mental Health Wellness Week. Among all people afflicted with PTSD, 21-43 percent will abuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their lives, Medscape states. Many who are afflicted with this disorder have suffered extreme forms of trauma, such as rape or witnessing deaths in a war zone. That being said, PTSD can occur due to exposure to a frightening secondhand story told by a witness.
Like addiction, most forms of mental illness are not curable, but they are treatable.

Like addiction, most forms of mental illness are not curable, but they are treatable. There are exceptions, such as depression, which the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance notes 6.7 percent of the adult American population suffers from. Most cases of depression are not lifelong, but many are episodic and can come and go. Reoccurrences are viewed as relapse, just as falling off the wagon from drug abstinence would be.

It takes two

The Minnesota Center for Mental Health states that America is home to 9.2 million people who are battling both a mental illness and a drug or alcohol abuse problem. Treating substance abuse without proper attention to underlying mental health concerns is like treating the pain that stems from an infection but not the infection itself. Without getting to the root cause and dealing with the factors that led a person to a life of drug and alcohol abuse, the potential for relapse is high. Mental illnesses commonly diagnosed in substance abusers include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
One of the most common mental health disorders seen in addicts is bipolar disorder. According to WebMD, it affects 5.7 million people annually, and Current Psychiatry notes up to 60 percent of these people are lifetime substance abusers.

Bipolar disorder is becoming so commonly intertwined with drug and alcohol abuse in America that the two are synonymous in some people’s minds. Unfortunately, this mindset fuels the fire of stereotypes surrounding the bipolar community. Treating this disorder alongside issues of substance abuse can prove to be difficult, especially if the drugs being abused are prescribed treatments, like lithium. In these cases, alternative medications are generally supplied. Bipolar disorder is hard to manage entirely without some form of medication therapy.

There are six types of anxiety-based disorders, with the most common being generalized anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health accounts for around 6.8 million people having GAD. Coping with anxiety is no small feat, and American doctors are often quick to dole out prescriptions for drugs to calm the worries and paranoid states associated with anxiety.

Popular go-to drugs for anxiety-ridden patients are benzodiazepines, which were prescribed 112.8 million times in 2008, per Psychiatry. Given that, it is understandable how 17,019 people were admitted to treatment for benzo abuse and dependency in 2012, according to SAMHSA.

That being said, pharmaceutical medications aren’t your only path to an anxiety-free life. Exercise has consistently proven its benefits to sufferers of anxiety. People who get physical exercise on a regular basis are 25 percent less likely to ever develop an anxiety or depressive disorder over the five-year period that follows. Other practices that are recommended to help anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and a balanced diet.

Among substance abusers, 20 percent have anxiety or mood disorders, such as major depression, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. As one of the most common mental health disorders in America, many people assume treatment for it is cut and dry at this point, but that isn’t quite true.

While medications are frequently prescribed to address depression, there are treatment options that require no use of any kind of drug therapy. Breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga have all shown moderate to significant success in reducing symptoms in sufferers of major depression. In a recent Harvard Health Publication study, depressive symptoms decreased by half among women who participated in regular yoga sessions over a three-month time period.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17, in addition to 4 percent of the adult population, according to Healthline. Symptoms commonly include an inability to focus on the task at hand, disorganization, and forgetfulness. Standard treatment options include medication-based therapies, such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, in conjunction with therapy. The potential for tolerance and abuse of these medications is high, particularly when abused, although the potential for addiction is lower among individuals who actually have ADHD.

Still, there is credible evidence to suggest a strong link between substance use disorders and ADHD, regardless of whether or not it represents cause and effect. According to WebMD, the prevalence of ADHD is five to 10 times greater among alcoholics than the general population, and around a quarter of all substance abusers who seek treatment have the disorder. A lot of sufferers of this disorder worry about how they will manage their ADHD symptoms in lieu of these medications. The answers are plentiful.

Relaxation techniques, ranging from regular exercise to mindfulness meditation, can be quite successful in reducing the symptoms of ADHD to a manageable and tolerable level. U.S. News reported on one study in which cognitive behavioral therapy improved symptoms for two-thirds of participants by 30 percent, while only one-third of the control group saw any improvement. Tandem treatment requires a heavy knowledge of medications and behavioral therapies to assist in managing ADHD symptoms without pharmaceutical drugs when required.

Reaching out for help

co-occurring treatment adhdCo-occurring disorders are incredibly common, and you can get help for both substance abuse and mental illness at the same time. Join the others who have sought help and are now living happy and content lives in recovery. Combined treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders is complex and should only be attempted by the most skilled of professionals, like those on staff at The Recovery Village. Call today to find out how you can get well.

The Building Blocks for Treating Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
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The Building Blocks for Treating Substance Abuse and Mental Illness was last modified: September 18th, 2017 by The Recovery Village