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Many people with mental illness turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their illness. It’s estimated that at least 60% of those suffering from mental illness also suffer from substance abuse.

One common disorder that is associated with a high rate of substance abuse is bi-polar disorder. Bi-polar disorder is characterized by excessive mood swings from low lows to high highs. To the person suffering from bi-polar disorder the effects of alcohol or other substances tends to help even out these mood swings, however as they continue to abuse alcohol or drugs the effect begins to lessen and they find themselves needing more of the substance until the person is completely dependent.

A well-known Alcoholics Anonymous saying states “There is no problem that alcohol cannot make worse” (taken from myRecovery’s online aa meetings, this holds true with mental illness. Alcohol and other drugs can cause depression, anxiety, and can impair sleep, so someone suffering from a mental illness that is already causing some or all of these symptoms substance abuse can exacerbate the symptoms exponentially.

Another common issue involved with someone with a double diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse is the difficulty in diagnosing the actual illness. It’s extremely difficult for physicians to give a truly accurate mental illness diagnosis for someone suffering from substance abuse as the alcohol or drug use causes many symptoms that mimic many illnesses. This can lead to difficulty in prescribing the proper medication which often leads to many additional issues where one medication that lessons the symptoms for one mental illness can extremely worsen another.

What make the physicians job of diagnosing mental illness even more difficult is the fact that some mental disorders can be caused by the substance it’s self so the physician has to determine if the condition is in fact alcohol or drug induced or if the condition is underlying. One good example of this is depression. Many people suffering from major depression turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate their illness and escape the depression for a short time, however once the effects have worn off it often leaves the person feeling more depressed than before. Alcohol by its self can cause depression as well making it very difficult for a physician to determine if the depression is caused by alcohol or is an underlying issue. It often requires the physician to attempt to score the patients depression shortly after their last drink, and then again after the alcohol’s affect has had a chance to lessen. This is also made more difficult by the effects of withdraw which can also induce deep depression.

As we continue to learn more about the brain and about how these mental disorders can interact with drugs and alcohol we will continue to better diagnose these underlying mental illnesses. Once we can better diagnose and treat the underlying conditions that lead to substance abuse, the rate of recovery from addiction will increase accordingly.

Other Useful Resources:

  • Treatment For Mental Illness
  • Supplements for Depression
  • Yoga Poses For Depression
  • Caffeine Dehydrate


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