Mental illness and drug addiction often occur together. The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that 50% of people with a severe mental condition also have a substance abuse problem. It also found that 37% of alcohol abusers have a mental illness, as do 53% of drug addicts.
The connection between mental illness and addiction is strong. If a person has a vulnerability to one type of brain disease they may be also susceptible to another. The same pathways, molecules and chemicals in the brain are involved with addiction and mental illness.
Common factors shared by mental illness and addiction
There are certain conditions that mental illness and substance abuse commonly share. They include:
- Bipolar disorder
Some people may begin drug use as a form of self-medication. Drug abuse may temporarily relieve some of these symptoms. Many people with depression use drugs to mask it. Alcohol is commonly misused for those who suffer from anxiety. Due to the extreme mood swings associated with Bipolar disorder, many turn to drugs to smooth them out. The distressful symptoms of schizophrenia, for example, hallucinations and delusions cause many to turn to substances to cope. A person with a mental illness can feel less inhibited and causes them to make risky choices like using illegal drugs and drinking to excess. This impaired judgement may lead to higher consumption of drugs and alcohol and addiction ensues.
On the other hand, chronic alcohol and drug abuse, especially during adolescence, may trigger mental illness. Certain drugs alter the brain chemicals that control mood and other behaviors. This may lead to anxiety or depression which the addict may try to mask with other drugs. Also, data suggests that those who smoke cannabis are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as nonsmokers.
Underlying causes of mental illness and drug abuse
Other factors that could explain the frequent simultaneous occurrence of addiction and mental illness may include:
- Chemical deficiency
It is estimated that 40-60% an individual’s predisposition to comorbidity (having both disorders at the same time) is attributed to genetics. The reason that alcoholism and anxiety disorders coincide so often may also be chemical factors such as a reduction in the amount of serotonin, a chemical critical to brain functioning. Lastly,early exposure to stress or trauma can be a factor as well.
Unfortunately, the exact relationship is not entirely clear, but the connection works both ways. Those with alcohol and drug addictions are prone to develop mental illnesses. People with certain mental illnesses may be inclined to develop substance abuse problems. Trying to suppress either issue sparks a vicious cycle. Focus should be on proper diagnosis and treatment.
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