Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders: Why Mental and Substance Use Disorders Occur Together

If you thought having a substance abuse issue was bad enough, you might feel a lot worse if you had to deal with a mental health issue too. Or you might have a mental health issue and worry about how substance use could make your life worse. On the other hand, you might have both issues already and feel like you need help. Consider why substance use disorders and mental disorders occur together.

Using Substances to Self-Medicate

Someone with mental health issues often abuses drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. This may happen because the individual doesn’t understand their issue is treatable, they may not know they have an issue in the first place, or maybe they’re afraid to speak up about it, among other things. For example, someone who has schizophrenia could self-medicate by using nicotine in tobacco products to improve cognition and lessen some of the symptoms they experience. Although this can make someone with a mental disorder feel better initially, it can surely lead to worse problems down the road.

Drug Use Can Lead to Mental Health Issues

Abusing drugs such as marijuana can lead to mental health issues like psychosis or at least an increased risk. This is one example of a co-occurring disorder where someone with a substance use problem could potentially experience a mental disorder. Indeed, 53 percent of those who abuse drugs and 37 percent of those who abuse alcohol deal with one or more serious mental illnesses. The common mental health problems that occur with substance abuse are anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, and depression.

These Issues Tend to Worsen When Left Untreated

While you may have a mental illness and not want to self-medicate by using substances, this may seem necessary to you. This can be especially true if you feel as though you have no other options. Similarly, you might feel stuck with a substance use issue and believe you have no other options. Although your issues will worsen, especially if left untreated, you don’t have to keep going this way.

Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

Despite the fact it can be difficult to understand whether someone has a mental disorder, substance use issue, or co-occurring disorder, there are signs to look for. Recognizing these can help you feel more empathy for your loved one who has these problems. And if you have a co-occurring disorder, you’ll be able to explain what’s wrong with you to your doctor in a clearer way and take better care of yourself. For one, it can be helpful to know the signs and symptoms of depression, a few of which are problems concentrating, loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, reckless behavior, and anger. Some symptoms and signs of anxiety are irritability, restlessness, insomnia, headaches, and others. If you experience the signs and symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder, you may have:

  • grandiose or unrealistic beliefs
  • impaired judgment
  • increased energy
  • hyperactivity

Understand the Value of Self-Help

In addition to seeking treatment, there are ways you can help yourself with your mental health and substance abuse disorders. In particular, you can learn healthy coping skills to manage stress such as avoiding people who make you feel stressed, expressing your feelings in healthy ways, and practicing gratitude on a regular basis.

Your Conditions are Treatable

While you may think you’ll be stuck enduring your issues forever, it’s important to understand there’s always hope. Dealing with your issues on your own can be isolating, lonely, and unhealthy. This can only make you feel worse than ever. For one thing, consider joining a treatment program that fits you. The right professional has years of experience and knowledge in dealing with the issues you have and can help you commit to a suitable treatment plan. All things considered, having co-occurring disorders doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. In fact, getting help from a trusted source can give you the push you need to change your life for the better. Making a commitment to take care of your issues could be the best decision you ever made for yourself. Ready to get started? Call us today at 833-820-2922.