Trying to help a loved-one overcome a drug or alcohol abuse disorder is hard, and when that person is also struggling with a co-occurring mental health condition, it’s easy to give in to feelings of hopelessness and despair. However, the professionals at many dual diagnosis treatment centers understand how substance abuse and mental health disorders frequently go hand in hand. These experts understand that the only way to overcome addiction is by treating the problem at its source, which is very often an undiagnosed psychological issue.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common mental health disorders faced by American adults, as well as how they relate to issues with substance abuse.
Depression and Substance Abuse
The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that nearly 7 percent of American adults suffer from a major depressive disorder. When compared to the population as a whole, men and women who have been diagnosed with major depression are between 3 to 4 times as likely to develop a dependence on alcohol in their lifetime.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Depressed mood nearly all of the day for at least 5 days per week, for a period of at least 2 weeks
- Loss of interest in activities that were once found enjoyable
- Either sleeping too much or too little for an extended period of time
- Significant changes in body weight and appetite
- Impaired concentration and thinking ability
- Recurring thoughts about or attempts of self-harm or suicide
- Constant feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness
- Excessive feelings of fatigue and tiredness on an almost daily basis
Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse
Individuals suffering from an anxiety disorder experience overwhelming feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear. These feelings make it extremely difficult to cope with the stresses and challenges of day-to-day life.
People with panic disorders frequently turn to drugs with depressive effects such as alcohol, opiates, and benzos as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. Over time, this pattern of substance abuse frequently develops into a physical addiction.
Common warning signs that a loved one suffers from an anxiety disorder include:
- Difficulty relaxing or sitting still
- Elevated heart rate or heart palpitations
- Constant and intrusive feelings of uneasiness, worry, fear, and panic
- Muscle tension and sore muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Episodes of dizziness, nausea, or vomiting
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Substance Abuse
A study performed at The National Drug and Alcohol Research Center in Sydney, Australia reports that between 50 to 66 percent of individuals experiencing a drug or alcohol abuse disorder also suffer from PTSD. There are a number of events and experiences that can trigger the development of PTSD, including:
- Witnessing the sudden death of a friend or family member
- Military combat
- Serious automobile accidents
- Living through a natural disaster
- Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
- Sexual and physical abuse, especially during childhood
Common signs that someone has developed PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts
- Avoiding others, especially those associated with the traumatic event
- Behavioral changes such as aggressive outbursts and engaging in reckless actions
- Sudden and unpredictable mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Depression and suicidal thoughts or actions
Due to the risk of re-traumatizing the patient, managing both PTSD and substance abuse treatment at the same should only be done by professionals with experience in dual diagnosis treatment.
ADHD and Substance Abuse
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition associated with an inability to pay attention, excessive physical and cognitive activity, and poor impulse control. A growing body of evidence has shown that there is a strong connection between ADHD and substance abuse disorders. In fact, alcoholism has been found to be between 5 to 10 times more common in those with ADHD than in those without the condition.
The symptoms of ADHD include:
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Impulsive behavior
- Difficulty paying attention
- Constantly losing or misplacing personal items
- Restlessness and constant fidgeting
Because ADHD negatively impacts so many areas of life performance, it frequently triggers the development of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Substance Abuse
OCD is a type of panic disorder characterized by a compulsive need to complete various rituals and patterns of behavior. Those with OCD often fear that failing to complete these rituals will have disastrous consequences, such as the death or illness of a loved one. Many people with OCD will turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate these intrusive thoughts, leading to a rate of substance abuse that is almost twice that of the general population.
Signs that a loved-one may suffer from OCD include:
- An obsessive fear of germs and illness
- The need to maintain perfect symmetry and order of their surroundings
- An inability to go on with their day if certain rituals are not completed
- Excessively checking to make sure the door is locked, the lights are off, their hands are clean, etc.
- Constant intrusive thoughts about taboo subjects, such as sex or violence.
Panic Disorders and Substance Abuse
A person with a panic disorder experiences recurrent and unpredictable panic attacks. Panic attacks are different from generalized anxiety and are characterized by heart palpitation, profuse sweating, numbness, shortness of breath, and an impending sense of doom. Other common symptoms of panic disorder include:
- Feeling detached
- Constant fear of losing control
- Frequently experiencing hot flashes or chills
- Frequently feeling faint, dizzy, or nauseous
- Sudden discomfort in the chest
People with panic disorders frequently isolate themselves from others to avoid suffering from a panic attack in public. Panic disorder sufferers often live in a constant state of fear, as they may experience an episode of panic with little to no warning.
Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with these symptoms quickly becomes a vicious cycle, as many of the substances used for self-medication can themselves trigger the onset of a panic attack.
Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse
Schizophrenia is a severe form of mental illness affecting roughly 1 percent of American adults. Schizophrenia is known to cause a wide range of problems, primarily with regulating thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Telltale signs of Schizophrenia include:
- Thoughts and beliefs that are not based in reality. This can include delusions of being monitored or followed, or the belief that someone is trying to communicate through coded messages.
- Auditory and visual hallucinations, the most common example of which is hearing voices. In severe cases, the hallucinations can take the form of an entirely separate reality.
- Disorganized and incoherent thinking. People with schizophrenia often speak in “word salad,” where words are strung together seemingly at random.
- Behavioral changes such as mood swings, aggression, social isolation, and neglecting personal hygiene.
Almost 50 percent of people with schizophrenia will abuse drugs or alcohol in their lifetime. That’s a rate of substance abuse nearly 5 times greater than in the general population of the U.S.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Maryland
If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse disorder as well as a co-occurring mental illness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a member of our team at Maryland Recovery today. Our east coast dual diagnosis treatment programs can help get you started on the path towards lifelong recovery.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.