Using heroin and other drugs can cause short and long-term effects on your physical and mental health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people struggling with drug addiction are twice as likely to live with mood and anxiety disorders. In 2015, approximately 43 million adults had a mental health disorder and of those, 8 million people had a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Common Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders with Heroin Abuse

People who have mental health disorders may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate in an attempt to reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders. People often misuse substances to try to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder, to cope with difficult emotions or to temporarily change their mood.

However, this common practice does not actually treat the mental health disorder and leads to worsening symptoms. Additionally, alcohol and drug misuse can increase the underlying risk for mental disorders. Mental disorders are caused usually by a combination of genetics, the environment, and other risk factors.

Using substances like heroin can significantly increase symptoms of mental illness or trigger an underlying mental health condition. Substances may also interact with medications like antidepressants and mood stabilizers, which reduces the efficacy of the treatment.

Heroin and Anxiety Disorders

For someone who uses heroin, anxiety could be a side effect of heroin withdrawal. Someone who has an anxiety disorder might also use substances like heroin to try to reduce their symptoms.

Someone without a history of an anxiety disorder could also develop symptoms of anxiety after using heroin, creating a cycle of anxiety and anxiety relief through heroin use.

Heroin use over an extended period can rewire the brain and have long term effects on the brain, resulting in the development of anxiety. Using drugs like heroin may also impact the development of appropriate coping skills which can increase anxiety symptoms.

Process Disorders and Heroin

Researchers have found that people with process disorders like gambling or compulsive shopping are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders.

Conversely, frequent substance use causes brain function to be irregular and can cause people to engage in other behaviors more compulsively, especially during withdrawal periods or during early recovery from drug addiction.

People can also develop a process disorder first, during a period of heightened stress or depression. Someone living with a process disorder may start using substances to experience the same relief from anxiety, depression, loneliness, or boredom that they used to get from using pornography, shopping online or doing high-intensity exercise.

Heroin Use and Psychotic Disorders

Several substances, like LSD or marijuana, can cause symptoms similar to those of a psychotic disorder. Approximately three-fourths of people living with a psychotic disorder also have a substance use disorder.

Co-occurring substance use and psychotic disorders can cause significant adverse effects. Drugs can trigger an underlying psychotic disorder or worsen the symptoms of an existing one and reduce the efficacy of medications. 

People living with psychotic disorders may use substances to try to reduce the symptoms of their disorder and then become dependent on a particular substance.

One of the most common ways substance use causes a psychotic break is during withdrawal. Heroin, specifically, can cause severe withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, agitation, depression, and paranoia. If heroin withdrawal symptoms are severe, they can cause psychosis because the brain is overwhelmed, which makes it harder for the individual to cope with stress.

Heroin Use and Personality Disorders

Personality disorders include conditions like antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). According to Personality Disorder and Addiction, nearly half of people with personality disorders have a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Personality disorders are typically present before someone decides to use substances. 

When someone with a personality disorder uses substances, it can exacerbate the symptoms of a personality disorder. The most common personality disorders that are diagnosed with a substance use disorder include ASPD, BPD, and narcissistic personality disorder.

Relationship Between Mental Health and Heroin

Nearly half of people with mental health disorders also have co-occurring substance use disorders.

The relationship between mental health and heroin use is significant and can often be attributed to heroin withdrawal. During heroin withdrawal, an individual will usually experience symptoms like anxiety, agitation, depression, paranoia. In severe cases, auditory and visual hallucinations will be present as well.

People with a mental health and co-occurring substance use disorder may have previously been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and then started using heroin to try to reduce the undesired symptoms of their mental health condition.

Statistics of Mental Health Issues with Co-Occurring Heroin Use

Some compelling statistics about mental health and heroin use disorders include:

  • The number of people meeting the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for heroin dependence or heroin use disorder increased dramatically to 626,000 in 2016 from 214,000 in 2002
  • Nearly 30% of people with a psychotic disorder have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder
  • Almost 40% of people who experience a psychotic break have used or are actively using marijuana
  • Approximately 50% of people living with schizophrenia have a co-occurring substance use disorder

Treatment for Heroin Addiction and Comorbid Mental Health Disorders

Heroin use and mental health disorders can complicate diagnosis and treatment. If someone treats an addiction but not a mental health condition, there is a higher risk that a setback will occur when mental health disorder symptoms emerge. Conversely, if someone gets treatment for their mental illness but not their heroin use disorder, using the drug will most likely cause the condition to return.

People with mental health disorder symptoms should seek treatment for both disorders at the same time. A dual diagnosis treatment plan that focuses on co-occurring mental health and heroin use disorders can set up the foundation for long-term recovery.

If you or someone you know is living with co-occurring mental health and heroin use disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals can design an individualized treatment plan to address heroin use and co-occurring disorders. To learn more about what treatment program could work for you, call to speak with a representative.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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