The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has stated that in some cases, addiction can cause mental illness. Since addiction changes our brain chemistry, it’s not a surprise that depression, anxiety, mood disorders, or cognitive impairment can cause issues with our mental health. The other side of the coin, is that mental illness can sometimes be the root of addiction.
Mental illness and addiction are often co-occurring diagnoses that are difficult to decipher which caused which. Someone who begins abusing drugs or alcohol may be self-medicating a mental illness she already has. Or, drug abuse may start presenting symptoms that coincide with mental illness. It’s difficult to tell if the drugs caused the illness, or if the illness was underlying, and drugs brought it on.
The prevalence of the co-occurring disorders is staggering. People with mood disorders have a higher propensity to abuse drugs, and people who abuse drugs have a higher propensity to develop mood disorders and other mental illnesses. Some research has suggested there may be a genetic predisposition to develop both illnesses, or a greater risk of developing a second disorder after the first manifestation. Genes also indirectly affect how we respond to stress as well as our likelihood of partaking in high-risk behavior.
Environment also plays a role in both disorders, though not always. If someone grows up in a drug and alcohol riddled environment, the odds are against her. When adolescents begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol because of peer pressure or curiosity, this causes fundamental changes in the brain which may be a precursor to addiction and mental illness.
Much of this debate is similar to asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? The most important aspect of this argument is treatment. If a mental illness is diagnosed and treated properly, the likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem decreases. If addiction is addressed and treated, the odds of developing a mental illness are also reduced. Medically-supervised detox can begin the process of treatment for addiction, which will lead into the treatment of mental illness. If you or your loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and mental illness, we can help. Don’t wait another day, give us a call and let us help you begin the healing transition into recovery.
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