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The Link Between Mental Health and Drug Addiction

a person pours pills into their hand

Mental health disorders are unfortunately common in America. Experts say that as many as 1 in 5 US adults suffers from a mental health condition. And the number of people with mental health diagnoses is on the rise.

You may know that a mix of genetics and environmental factors can cause mental health disorders. But did you know that mental health and drug addiction are connected?

Drug addiction is also known as a substance use disorder (SUD). And SUD is a mental health disorder in and of itself. Yet, the link between SUDs and other mental health conditions goes much deeper than that.

What is the connection between mental health and addiction? And if you are struggling with a SUD and a mental health diagnosis, can rehab centers in San Diego help? Keep reading to find out.

The Link Between Mental Health and Drug Addiction

50% of people with a mental health disorder also suffer from a SUD. What is more, 60% of young adults and teens with SUDs also meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis.

There is a high rate of comorbidity between SUDs and mental health conditions. Comorbidity refers to two different conditions’ tendency to occur together in the same person.

Importantly, researchers do not believe that SUDs cause mental health disorders or vice versa. The two are correlated, though. That is because they share the following three factors in common:

  • Both conditions have similar risk factors
  • Mental health conditions can increase the risk of substance use and SUDs
  • Substance use and SUDs can increase the risk of developing a new mental health disorder

It is important to understand that drug use does not cause mental health disorders in and of itself. And mental health disorders do not cause drug use. The connection is far more complex and multilayered.

Risk Factors

Substance use disorders and mental health conditions share many risk factors in common.

As mentioned, genetics play a huge role in both disorders. If you have a family member who is an addict or who has a mental health disorder, your risk for a SUD or mental health disorder increases.

But environmental stimuli also underlie both conditions. Environmental influences that can lead one to develop a SUD or other mental illness include:

  • A high-stress lifestyle
  • A traumatic childhood
  • Your mother’s diet when she was pregnant with you

All three of these factors can lead to brain chemical changes. And the changes in these brain chemicals may make someone more likely to use drugs. The changes can also often result in the development of mental health disorders.

Mental Health Conditions and Substance Abuse

There are four mental health conditions that most frequently occur alongside SUDs. They are:

  • Depressive disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders (e.g., general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder)

But what is the connection between these disorders and substance use?

The theory goes that people with mental health disorders use substances to self-medicate. For example, there is a strong link between anxiety and addiction to alcohol.

Without a doctor’s supervision, these individuals often over-medicate. They may not know about tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction. As such, their self-medicating can often get out of hand.

What is more, many illegal drugs can help with mental health symptoms initially. But over time, they may make some symptoms worse.

Finally, according to the monoamine hypothesis, people with mental health conditions have lower levels of important brain chemicals. These chemicals include dopamine (the reward chemical) and serotonin (the happy chemical).

Illegal drugs increase levels of dopamine and serotonin. So, people with mental health disorders, and, thus, dopamine and serotonin deficiencies are at higher risk for dependence and addiction.

Substance Use and Mental Health Diagnoses

Unfortunately, substance use can increase one’s risk for mental health disorders. This is true even for people who were not diagnosed with a mental health condition before using the substance.

How is this possible? Scientists believe it could have to do with the fact that addiction changes the way the brain works. And these changes can cause the brain to function differently.

For example, substance use can disrupt areas of the brain that control your impulses. These disruptions can lead a normally responsible person to act unpredictably. Drug use can also alter the decision-making part of the brain.

Substance use at a young age can increase these risks. That is because the brain is not fully mature until someone is around 26 years of age. Brain areas are highly vulnerable when they are still developing.

The good news is that some of these effects are reversible. This is true when a certain drug produces mental health disorder-like symptoms. Once you take the drug away, the person’s symptoms dissipate, too.

But in other cases, the brain changes from a SUD are more permanent. For example, some people who use cannabis and have a history of schizophrenia in the family may develop psychosis.

Many people report psychotic-like symptoms from using cannabis. However, for some people with a genetic predisposition to psychosis, these symptoms never go away.

Looking for San Diego or Nashville Rehab Centers for Your Loved One?

Mental health and drug addiction are closely linked. Both disorders share common risk factors. Plus, mental health conditions may increase the risk for a substance use disorder (SUD) and vice versa.

Are you searching for drug and alcohol treatment centers in San Diego or Nashville? Apex is an alcohol rehabilitation facility that also offers help for people with SUDs and other mental health conditions.

Contact us to get help for yourself or your loved one today.

Call Our Toll-Free Hotline 24/7 at 877.881.2689