Why is Mental Illness a Risk for Substance Abuse?
By: Design for Change Recovery
The most common reason why individuals who suffer from a mental illness are at risk for substance abuse is because of their desire to “self-medicate” and better cope with the symptoms of their mental illness. The hope for those individuals is that by drinking, they can “get rid of” or “lessen” the feelings that they dislike or feel uncomfortable with. For example, a person who suffers from social anxiety may feel that alcohol helps them relax more when they are out with friends. Additionally, a person who suffers from depression may decide to drink because they feel hopeless or lost.
Although the individual may feel that drinking helps them, this does not mean that it’s a healthy choice. If a person has difficulty controlling their intake of alcohol, has developed a tolerance for higher consumptions of alcohol, has been lead to risky situations due to excessive drinking, or has withdrawal symptoms, they have likely developed Alcohol Abuse Disorder. In this case, the individual needs to seek treatment sooner rather than later. Individuals who suffer from this, along with a mental illness, are experiencing comorbidity.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, comorbidity is a term used to describe two or more disorders or illnesses occurring in the same person. Some other reasons for why mental illness and drug/substance abuse may coexist are:
- Predisposed genetic influencers could mean that the person is more susceptible to addiction.
- Environmental triggers, such as stress or trauma, and early exposure to substance abuse could impact an individual’s interaction with substances.
- For an individual with a mental illness, use of substances could affect the brain’s regions of reward and stress.
- Both mental illness and substance abuse are developmental disorders, which means that they often begin in a person’s younger (teenage) years. Over time, the person’s addiction and mental illness may become stronger as they are exposed to more stressors and triggers.
It’s important for individuals with a mental illness to seek treatment as soon as possible. Getting diagnosed and seeking help are great ways for the person to avoid self-medication and could lead to them knowing more about why they are feeling the way that they feel. If a person has more knowledge about their mental illness, they can find healthier alternatives to cope. Recovery is possible, and with the right treatment and action plan, that person can be on their way to overcoming their addiction and enhancing their overall well-being.
Design For Change offers the hope that exists in recovery through residential treatment programs that change lives one time. Serving as a refuge for addicts and alcoholics seeking recovery, our programs provide the design for living needed for success in sobriety. Call us today for more information: (877) 267-3646