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Tackling Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

Drug addiction and mental illness commonly co-occur. People with mental health disorders are more vulnerable to substance abuse because they use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms or alleviate emotional pain.

Navigation: The Importance of Tackling Drug Addiction and Mental Illness Simultaneously, Which Comes First: Mental Health Disorders or Substance Use Disorder?, What is Dual Diagnosis Drug Rehab?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


According to the Biden administration’s top drug policy officials, substance use disorders and mental illnesses need to be tackled simultaneously to reduce fentanyl-related deaths.

At a House oversight hearing, the committee’s ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) called on Congress to address the prevalence of untreated mental illness that is fueling the market for illegal drugs. In his opening statement, he said: “We’re talking about people who lack the resources they need to treat mental illness, who face stigma in obtaining treatment, and who may self-medicate with alcohol, fentanyl.”

A 2021 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that over nine million adults in the U.S. have a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental disorder.

According to Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: “mental illness and drug addiction go hand in glove.”

He emphasized that “it’s really important that we address both mental health, social isolation as well as addiction,” referencing the President’s proposal to force health insurance providers to cover addiction care and mental disorders to the same level as physical health coverage.

But what exactly is the relationship between drug use and other mental disorders like anxiety and depression? Which condition results in the other? It is important to explore the connection between these two conditions so that people who have a co-occurring disorder can receive the treatment that they need.

Here we will explore the importance of addressing co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Let’s take a closer look.


The Importance of Tackling Drug Addiction and Mental Illness Simultaneously

There are several reasons why drug addiction and mental illnesses need to be tackled at the same time. Drug addiction is a type of substance use disorder (SUD), which is also a kind of mental health issue. These two issues often intersect and exacerbate each other, creating a complex and challenging situation not only for addicted individuals but also for society as a whole.

Drug addiction and mental illness commonly co-occur. People with mental health disorders are more vulnerable to substance abuse because they use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms or alleviate emotional pain. On the other hand, drug abuse can lead to or worsen mental health issues due to the impact on brain function and neurotransmitter systems.

Drug addiction and mental illness can also share common underlying causes, such as genetics, trauma, and environmental factors. By addressing these root causes comprehensively, healthcare professionals can offer more effective interventions and improve the chances of successful, long-term recovery.

Integrated treatment that addresses both drug addiction and mental illness has been shown to lead to better outcomes. When both aspects are treated together, it can result in improved symptom management, reduced relapse rates, and increased overall functioning.

If either issue is left untreated, it can leave underlying problems unaddressed and increase the risk of treatment failure.

The holistic approach to recovery involves considering the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of a person’s well-being. Combining treatment for drug addiction and mental illness aligns with this approach, as it recognizes that these issues are interconnected and affect various aspects of a person’s life. Comprehensive care can help individuals build coping skills, resilience, and a support system necessary for lasting recovery.

By addressing both conditions simultaneously, health care providers can offer comprehensive care that acknowledges these interconnected factors. Addressing both problems together is crucial to improving the overall well-being of affected individuals and achieving more effective and sustainable outcomes.

It even has the added benefit of helping to fight the stigma surrounding both addiction and mental illness.

When society recognizes these conditions as complex health challenges rather than moral failings or personal weaknesses, people are more likely to seek help without fear of judgment or discrimination. In the long run, this helps prevent drug overdose and the development of serious mental illness.

On the whole, treating both addiction and mental illness simultaneously is simply more cost-effective. It can reduce the burden on healthcare systems and other social support services by preventing relapses and improving overall mental health outcomes.

Early intervention and integrated treatment can lead to reduced hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and legal issues associated with untreated or undertreated conditions.

When individuals struggling with drug addiction and mental illness receive comprehensive care, it has a positive ripple effect on their families and communities. Families experience less stress and burden, and communities benefit from decreased crime rates and increased productivity among individuals in recovery.

Overall, tackling drug addiction and mental illness simultaneously is essential for comprehensive and effective care. By recognizing the interplay between these issues, offering integrated treatment, and addressing shared underlying causes, we can improve the lives of affected individuals and promote a healthier, more supportive society.


Which Comes First: Mental Health Disorders or Substance Use Disorder?


Although substance use disorder is also considered a form of mental health disorder, it often co-occurs with other mental illnesses.

The relationship between mental health disorders and substance use disorder can be complex and bidirectional. This means both conditions can influence and exacerbate one another. The order in which they develop may vary from person to person.

In some cases, individuals may develop mental health disorders first, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, etc. As a way to cope with their unpleasant symptoms, they may turn to drugs or alcohol. They drink or take drugs recreationally to forget about their emotional distress. When this happens, it is called self-medication.

Self-medication can alleviate the pain or discomfort for a short while, but this tends to cause bigger problems in the long run as substance abuse turns into a full blown addiction.

It can also happen the other way around. Substance use disorder can contribute to the development of mental health issues.

Substance abuse can alter brain chemistry, making the person dependent on the drug. Soon they may have to take larger doses just to feel the same effects. This may also lead to the onset of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

Prolonged substance abuse can damage brain function, leading to mental health problems even after the individual stops using the substance.

In many cases, mental health disorders and substance use disorder can occur simultaneously, a condition known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. The presence of one condition can increase the risk of developing the other, and they often interact in complex ways, making treatment more challenging.

Keep in mind that one condition does not always cause the development of the other. But it does happen often, so we need to recognize that every individual’s situation is unique. The interplay between mental health and substance use can vary widely.

Seeking professional help from mental health and addiction specialists is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, as addressing both aspects is necessary for successful recovery in cases of co-occurring disorders.

What is Dual Diagnosis Drug Rehab?

Dual diagnosis drug rehab, also known as dual diagnosis treatment or co-occurring disorder treatment, refers to a specialized form of addiction treatment that addresses both substance abuse issues and co-existing mental health disorders in individuals at the same time.

In this context, “dual diagnosis” refers to the presence of both a drug addiction and a mental health disorder occurring simultaneously.

Dual diagnosis drug rehab programs recognize the importance of breaking the cycle of mental illness and addiction. These programs recognize that addressing only one aspect of the patient’s condition may not lead to lasting recovery.

Effective treatment requires simultaneously targeting both the substance abuse problem and the underlying mental health disorder. The goal is to provide comprehensive, integrated care that addresses the interconnected issues.

If you only address the addiction, they may self-medicate again when they feel the symptoms of their mental illness. If you only address their mental health, they are still addicted to the substance that is contributing to their mental disorders. In order to break the cycle, both problems need to be tackled at once.

A thorough evaluation is conducted to identify both the substance abuse problem and any co-existing mental health disorders. This assessment helps tailor a personalized treatment plan based on the patient’s specific needs and situation.

The treatment approach integrates interventions for both substance abuse and mental health disorders. It may involve individual therapy, group therapy, medication management, counseling, and other evidence-based therapies.

If necessary, medical detox may be provided to safely manage withdrawal symptoms during the initial phase of treatment. During detox, the patient’s drug or alcohol problem is tackled by gradually lowering their intake. Their withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed by healthcare professionals who can keep them safe and comfortable throughout this process.

In dual diagnosis rehab, individuals are also educated about their conditions and taught coping skills to manage triggers, cravings, and mental health symptoms without resorting to substance abuse. This will help them stay sober even after they leave rehab. Strategies are taught to prevent relapse and promote long-term recovery. After all, addiction recovery is a lifelong journey.

Continued support, therapy, and resources are provided after completing the rehab program to maintain sobriety and manage mental health.

The effectiveness of dual diagnosis drug rehab lies in its holistic approach, recognizing the interconnected nature of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

By addressing both issues simultaneously, individuals have a better chance of achieving lasting recovery and improved overall well-being. It’s essential for individuals with co-occurring disorders to seek professional help from treatment centers experienced in handling dual diagnosis cases. Look for a rehab center near you today to learn more.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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