Understanding the basic reasoning behind comorbidity of substance use disorder and mental illnesses

Understanding the basic reasoning behind comorbidity of substance use disorder and mental illnesses

Addiction to substances like alcohol or drugs was largely seen as a moral failing or character flaw. However, with numerous breakthroughs in scientific research, people have started to view substance use disorders (SUDs) as chronic diseases characterized by a significant deterioration in health and social function and loss of voluntary control over substance use.

The renewed understanding of SUDs and mental health illnesses as a medical condition has had important consequences on the prevention and treatment procedures. The findings of several scientific breakthroughs that addiction and mental disorders are brain diseases have substantially reduced the negative attitude surrounding them.

However, the interplay between SUDs and mental disorders are yet to be fully understood despite the significant progress made in developing a much better understanding of the dynamics between them.

The existence of a SUD along with a mental disorder is quite common. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 2.3 million Americans aged 12 and above were afflicted with both alcohol use disorder (AUD) and an illicit drug use disorder in 2015. While 333,000 adolescents (12 to 17 years) were suffering from co-occurring disorders like SUD and a major depressive episode (MDE), around 8.2 million adults (18 years and above) were afflicted with co-occurring SUDs and any mental illness (AMI).

Due to the overlapping of symptoms, it is not possible to determine which disorder—between both SUD and mental illness— develops first. Apparently, a large number of users turn to substances like alcohol or drugs to alleviate stresses and strains caused by mental illnesses. Though a person may start abusing substances for self-medication, it is not easy to shrug off the repercussions of this life-threatening habit.

Possible explanations for comorbidity

Although establishing cause and effect in co-occurring SUDs and mental disorders is challenging, still the below-mentioned three possible interpretations are of significance.

  • Since certain substances temporarily help to reduce the symptoms of a mental disorder, people afflicted with such a condition tend to abuse them to find relief from stress. Thus, a mental disorder increases vulnerability to SUDs.
  • Several studies suggest that the use of certain substances causes particular types of mental disorders. The previous research and studies suggest that alcohol abuse increases proclivity to mood or anxiety disorders. Moreover, it increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by modifying the brain’s ability to recover from traumatic experiences. Similarly, another research found that the use of marijuana contributes to the development of schizophrenia in people who have the specific genetic vulnerabilities.
  • Overlapping factors such as particular genes, neurobiological deficits, and stressful or traumatic life experiences may cause the occurrence of both SUDs and mental disorders. Although these possibilities are not mutually exclusive, a combination of these factors may result in co-occurring disorders.

Seek holistic treatment for co-occurring disorders

Due to the complex nature of co-occurring disorders and a wide gamut of factors that influence their development, it is quite a tricky task to make a diagnosis and determine the treatment. Therefore, only very experienced and expert professionals in this field can make an effective treatment plan.

There are instances where people who have used methamphetamine for a long time may suffer from paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. However, these symptoms may be mistaken for schizophrenia instead. While the existence of the symptoms of depression and anxiety is viewed as withdrawal symptoms, they could be the symptoms of an underlying mood disorder that need to be treated independently.

Therefore, it is essential to carry out further research to develop effective intervention techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring disorders, given the intricacy and prevalence of such cases.

If you or your loved one needs help from a mental health professional for co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness, contact the Dual Diagnosis Helpline. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 or chat online with our experts to get the details about the finest dual diagnosis programs in your vicinity. They will help you find the best dual diagnosis rehab centers where coexisting problems are managed efficiently through holistic treatment plans that help individuals lead happier and productive lives.

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