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Mental Health and Addiction
Individuals who struggle with mental health issues and those with any addiction co-exist in almost half of both those populations, as the data shows after decades of research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Not surprisingly, individuals who frequently abuse drugs or alcohol are likely to develop a co-occurring behavioral or mental health disorder. There is evidence, for example, that abusers of marijuana have an increased risk of psychosis while those who abuse opioid painkillers are at greater risk for depression. Regular methamphetamine use causes psychosis, anxiety and panic attacks, memory loss and depression. Cocaine users have increased anxiety, paranoia, delusions and depression.
Self-medicating to minimize our inner conflicts is not new, but it has reached new heights in the 21st century – perhaps due to the ease of availability. In Woman of Substances, Jenny Valentish discusses self-medicating at length. She says “In the initial pursuit of partying, people are likely to find themselves drawn to certain families of substances, and they will discover that these additionally offer relief to symptoms of mental illness, distress, or emotional pain.” Why do stimulants calm most people who have ADHD while they have the opposite effect on the rest of us? Why do some antihistamines sedate most people but for some others, cause stimulation? Clearly, their brain chemistry needs something different than the ‘average’ person. It is for the same reason that for many, their drug of choice is a sedative. Their brains need something to turn off the rapid-fire stimulation that can be almost constant.
Informative and concerning statistics on mental health in the US:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the most common mental condition in the U.S., affects 18 percent of adults and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms.
Depression: One in 10 adults in the US report suffering from depression. Many try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This often makes the problem worse leading to deeper depression.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Individuals with ADHD abuse substances to cope with their symptoms. Many are prescribed stimulants, which can be habit-forming and lead to a toxic pattern of substance abuse.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes the brain to produce less endorphins than a healthy brain, making them more likely to turn toward alcohol or drugs to feel happy.
Bipolar: About half of people with bipolar disorder also struggle with addiction.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Over two-thirds of people suffering with BPD abuse substances at some point in their lives.
Schizophrenia: Their rate of substance abuse is 50 percent higher than among the general population. Their most commonly abused drugs are alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and marijuana.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Substance abuse is found in over 25 percent of people who seek treatment for OCD.
Eating disorders: Four percent of the population has a major eating disorder, and of those people, 20-40 percent are more likely to have substance use disorder.
Alcohol and drug abuse can increase the underlying risk for mental disorders which are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other outside factors. If you are at risk for a mental disorder, abusing alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs may push you over the edge. Please seek a professional diagnosis – don’t allow public stigma or personal shame keep you from getting help.
SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (USA)
1-800-662 HELP (4357)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline