Addiction and Mental Health


Addiction and mental illness often go hand-in-hand. In many instances, those suffering from untreated mental disorders will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. Additionally, the continuous use of chemical substances has been known to lead to a decline in mental health, sometimes resulting in irreversible mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

While co-occurring disorders are exceedingly common, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) refers to addiction itself as a mental illness, seeing as substance dependency alters healthy functioning of the brain in a number of ways.

When neurological pathways are exposed to drugs and alcohol for a prolonged period of time, one’s hierarchy of needs will be completely disturbed. As human beings, we require five things in order to survive: oxygen, water, food, shelter, and sleep. Chemical substances muddle these innate requirements, hijacking our priorities and placing themselves at the top of the list. We begin to crave alcohol intensely, because our brain is telling our body, “I need this! I need this now, or I will die!” When it comes to obtaining drugs, we lose all semblance of impulse control. We do everything in our power to obtain the next high, no matter who we hurt – including ourselves.

Abuse VS Dependence

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) refers to addiction as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) specific criteria. Some of these benchmark signs of addiction include an increase in tolerance, an inability to control use, withdrawal symptoms upon ceased use, a desire to cut back coupled by a failure to do so, and a host of interpersonal consequences directly linked to continued use. The DSM makes a very specific distinction between drug abuse and drug dependence; while drug dependence and addiction share the same symptoms, drug abuse does not include the same criteria (compulsion, tolerance, and withdrawal, for example).

Which Treatment Option is Right for Me?

Because addiction itself is a mental illness, it can be difficult to determine which treatment option would most benefit you or your addicted loved one. Should you attend an inpatient treatment center that specializes in recovery from mental illness, or an exclusively substance-focused rehab? When deciding, keep in mind that most drug addicts and alcoholics simultaneously suffer from an additional undiagnosed mental illness. The prevalence of comorbid mental health concerns has been well-documented since the early 1980s. Research suggests that individuals who have been diagnosed with a personality or mood disorder are more than twice as likely to concurrently suffer from a severe substance dependency disorder. On the other hand, those afflicted with substance abuse or dependency disorders are more than twice as likely to struggle with an undiagnosed mood disorder (such as depression or anxiety).

While one disorder can potentially lea to the development of another, this is not always the case. In some instances, both substance dependency and other mental illnesses are caused by the overlap of certain predispositions, such as childhood trauma and genetic vulnerability, or neurological deficiencies and enduring stress (such as caused by prolonged abuse). Of course, mental illness frequently leads to drug abuse, just as long-term drug abuse can sometimes lead to the development of mental illness. When determining which treatment option is right for you, you must take a look at your existing disorders, predispositions, and patterns of substance abuse. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or manic depression, attending a facility that offers mental health and addiction treatment is liable to be your best option. If you exclusively struggle with a severe depressive disorder, a psychiatric facility will probably offer you the most thorough and personalized care. And if you have been using drugs compulsively but have no history (family or otherwise) of mental illness, a drug rehab may be the best option.

Recovery from Addiction and Mental Illness

At Next Chapter, we specialize in the treatment of chemical dependency and all other potential co-occurring disorders. Our team of dedicated and compassionate therapists work closely with experienced psychologists and psychiatrists, providing each of our patients with highly individualized and comprehensive treatment. For more information on our male-exclusive program of addiction and mental health recovery, please contact us today at 561-563-8407.