Mental illness and substance abuse are two of the biggest problems facing Americans today. Still, there are important aspects of both of these health dilemmas that go woefully underreported.
This is surprising considering that nearly 40 percent of individuals struggling with a substance use disorder have a mental health problem at the same time, a condition known as “co-occurring disorders.” The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 20.2 million adults in this country struggle with drug abuse. Just under 8 million of these individuals are suffering from a co-occurring mental health problem, too.
The first step toward a solution is through intervention, which can be even more challenging when a loved one’s recovery is being stunted by their other mental health symptoms. This article explores how to help people with co-occurring mental health problems, and how an intervention is the first step.
Common Mental Health Disorders and Symptoms
Learning more about these conditions, however, improves a person’s ability to recognize their own need for professional help. The following is a short summary of the most common mental health disorders that have been known to increase a person’s risk for abusing drugs:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Those with post-traumatic stress disorder are plagued by vivid memories of a traumatic event that hinder their ability to live a normal life. Scenarios that result in PTSD include:
- Extreme disaster situations
- Victim of a violent attack
- Service in armed forces
- Victim of abuse, especially during childhood
PTSD patients are at higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs to help block out unpleasant memories.
Depression is among the most common mental health problems in the country. As the condition progressions into clinical depression, the patient can experience two or more weeks of:
- Intense hopelessness
- Low sense of self-worth
- Hindered mobility
- Limited motivation
Some attempt to alleviate these symptoms with substances like alcohol, but in most cases, this approach actually worsens these symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This mental health disorder is characterized by frequent, nagging and powerful feelings of anxiety and dread. It may be related to work, extreme life changes or the result of yet another mental health issue, like a social anxiety disorder. It’s not uncommon for anxiety patients to abuse alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs if they believe it will limit their symptoms.
This mood disorder is characterized by shifts between two ends of the emotional spectrum, from depression to mania and back again. This high level of emotional turmoil makes it very difficult for individuals to live a normal life, especially without treatment. As in the case with depression, bipolar patients use drugs to mute their depression or calm their mania. However, this approach can make both types of episodes more severe.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Uncontrollable habits and urges are a major component of this disorder. Patients dealing with OCD may abuse drugs to help them try to fight off their urges, but they are just as likely to develop new compulsions around drug abuse. In cases like these, treating both problems becomes much more difficult.