When a person struggles with a substance use disorder, they can also struggle with a mental illness. Discover 5 of the most common co-ocurring disorders.

When a person struggles with a substance use disorder, they may also struggle with a mental illness. In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration discovered that 7.9 million adults suffered from a co-occurring disorder. A mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) can arise out of a drug or alcohol addiction, or vice versa. Symptoms of an addiction and a mental illness can be similar, which can make it difficult to differentiate the two. In order to manage both disorders, it is important to seek guidance from a medical professional to determine a proper form of treatment. Several mental health disorders are commonly recognized with addiction. While each person’s specific situation varies, mental health disorders like anxiety, depression and eating disorders are known to accompany addiction. The following are five mental illnesses that are frequently seen alongside addiction.

1. Bipolar Disorder 

Individuals who struggle with bipolar disorder can experience sudden mood swings, like shifting from feeling great happiness to feeling overwhelming depression. A bipolar disorder can develop from a variety of factors, such as childhood trauma or extreme stress. Medical professionals acknowledge that there isn’t a singular cause of mental illness, but they agree that substance misuse can be an influence.

Clinical researchers believe that a person’s brain chemistry can affect a bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder. People with bipolar disorders have abnormal levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, and these chemicals can alter one’s appetite, metabolism, sleep patterns and emotions. Since symptoms of bipolar disorder can be uncomfortable, many people turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their discomfort, even if it’s only temporarily relieved. However, drugs and alcohol that are used for relief can sometimes trigger depressive episodes in individuals with bipolar disorder. These affected individuals may not think that it’s the alcohol or drugs causing the drastic mood change, therefore they may consume more of the substances to combat the enhanced depression. With this type of behavior, addictions can quickly form.

2. Anxiety

It’s been discovered that those who suffer from an anxiety disorder can be more prone to experiencing substance misuse. Out of 326 patients with a substance use disorder that participated in a study conducted by Psychiatric Services, 48 percent suffered from anxiety. For individuals who struggle with anxiety, consuming substances may bring a sense of relief and provide them a reprieve from their current situation.

Anxiety can be an aspect of a person’s personality that can cause impulsive actions to be made, such as excessively using drugs or alcohol. Since anxiety can be experienced prior to a substance use disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of long-term health issues.

3. Eating Disorders

The National Eating Disorder Association found that up to 50 percent of people with eating disorders misused drugs or alcohol. Both addiction and eating disorders share similar factors, such as low self-esteem, depression, social pressures and family history, all of which contribute to the disorders’ development. Substances that are commonly used when a person develops addiction alongside an eating disorder are laxatives, heroin and cocaine, which can all cause changes in one’s weight.

According to research conducted by the QJM: International Journal of Medicine, between 20 and 40 percent of women who struggled with bulimia also reported having a history of problems with alcohol and drug consumption. Also, females that engaged in binging or purging were reported to have higher rates of substance misuse. In an additional study, it was discovered that approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls who struggled with bulimia were smoking tobacco, using marijuana and drinking alcohol on a weekly basis. For individuals who suffer from binge-eating along with a substance use disorder, overeating and misusing drugs and alcohol can be a form of self-medicating to rid themselves of the guilt they are feeling from their situation.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by experiences that generate a prolonged amount of emotional suffering. These experiences can include abuse, military combat, natural disasters, and assault. To ease the uneasy feelings, people with PTSD may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their emotions. They may also consume substances so they can have a sense of control in their lives.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs discovered that those who struggle with PTSD have a strong possibility of struggling with alcohol misuse. Up to three-quarters of individuals who survived abusive or violent trauma reported struggling with a drinking problem. Struggling with both issues can result in additional mental and physical health concerns, such as experiencing panic attacks, depression, drug addiction, long-term physical illnesses and harmful behaviors.

5. Depression 

Known as a gateway into forming a substance use disorder, depression can cause people to turn to alcohol or drugs to escape their negative emotions. The substances can be used as an attempt to self-medicate, but that behavior can easily turn into an addiction if left untreated. When these two issues exist side by side, giving up drugs or alcohol worsens the depressive symptoms, as the substances were used to bury the tough emotions to begin with.

One-third of adults who have a substance use disorder also struggle with depression. Since the symptoms of addiction can sometimes imitate the symptoms of depression, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. While the exact symptoms experienced can vary, common signs of both disorders include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Change in appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts

Can Treatment Help A Co-Occurring Disorder? 

To treat a co-occurring disorder in an effective manner, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Seeking treatment through a facility allows a team of medical professionals to identify any mental illnesses that are exacerbating the addiction. A treatment facility can also help a patient manage their mental illness, detox from substances they’ve become addicted to and learn beneficial skills that will assist them through a life in recovery.

If you or a loved one struggle with a co-occurring disorder, The Recovery Village can help. With various locations across the country and individualized programs available for patients’ unique needs, The Recovery Village can help you begin your journey to a healthy life. For more information, call today.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.