When Addiction and Mental Disorders Are Linked, Treatment Should Be Too

Medical exam with doctor

Substance abuse treatment centers are increasingly turning to a whole person treatment strategy. Instead of treating the patient only for the addiction they reported when admitted, the treatment center may screen for various other types of problems, including additional substance abuse and mental health symptoms.

There is a high rate of comorbidity in addiction and mental disorders. Those admitted with an addiction to alcohol, for instance, are likely to also meet criteria for major depression disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Treating an addiction without addressing the mental health symptoms that may underlie it can decrease the effectiveness of addiction treatment.

An article appearing in Everyday Health discusses the importance of understanding the interplay between addiction and other mental health issues in order to make treatment successful. Ignoring the symptoms of a mental disorder can make relapse likely for an addiction patient, and treating mental disorders without addressing addiction may result in problems understanding the root of any symptoms.

In many cases where mental disorders appeared before addiction, the substance was introduced as way to self-medicate against the symptoms of the mental disorder. When addiction is introduced first, anxiety and depression can occur as a result of the addiction. Distinguishing each can be challenging.

In addition, one of the disorders may have taken root more strongly than the other. For instance, a person may be struggling with depression, but the symptoms are dwarfed by a particularly heavy alcohol addiction. This can make creating a treatment strategy difficult.

There are certain mental disorders that are more likely to be associated with alcohol or drug dependency. In cases of depression, patients may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. In addition, studies have shown that female substance abuse patients are more likely to also meet criteria for depression than males being treated for substance abuse. Anxiety is also a mood disorder that shows high rates of self-medication with alcohol.

Bipolar disorder also carries a high risk for substance addiction. The alternative cycles of high and low mood may result in a temptation to soften the mood swings with alcohol. Likewise, schizophrenia patients may use substances in an effort to ease the distress experienced with their extreme symptoms.

The article notes that patients diagnosed with a mental disorder may also show signs of increased impulsivity and risk-taking that may include using drugs or alcohol to excess. These behaviors may also lead to the abuse of the same substances. A mental disorder can affect judgment and result in a person consuming too much of a substance.

Other factors can also determine whether a mental disorder will occur in combination with an addiction. For instance, genetic factors seem to contribute to the appearance of substance abuse and mental disorders.

A chemical deficiency can also impact the likelihood that mental disorders and addiction will appear in the same patient. A low level of serotonin, for instance, in the brain may be the source of a link between addiction and mental disorders. Likewise, environmental factors play an important role in the development of addiction and mental disorders.

The article notes that about half of all patients with an addictive disorder will also meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder. About 20 percent of those with a psychiatric disorder will also have a substance abuse problem. The highest risk of addiction occurs with bipolar disorder patients and schizophrenia patients.

While it is unclear why these particular disorders have such a high rate of addiction, researchers believe that there may be some clues. For instance, the abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption can lead to severe withdrawal, with symptoms that resemble those of a schizophrenia diagnosis.

The changes in the brain linked to substances like alcohol may also hold some clues. Those changes may cause personality changes or mental symptoms that lead to the development of a mood disorder.

The article highlights the importance of using screening tools to identify the various symptoms that a patient may exhibit at admission. Treating both the addiction and the mental health symptoms may ensure that patients are treated effectively.

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