Mental Health in America
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the United States struggles with mental illness each year. Mental health issues increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder, with 3.8% of adults in the U.S. suffering from a mental illness and a co-occurring substance use disorder.
People with mental illnesses have roughly twice the risk of struggling with a substance abuse problem when compared to those who do not suffer from any mental health concerns. For a lasting recovery, they need access to treatment that is personalized to address how their specific mental health concerns led to their addiction.
How Mental Health Struggles Can Lead to Addiction
Although not everyone with a mental illness struggles with addiction, there are several reasons why the two may be connected.
Overlapping risk factors.
Many of the risk factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to mental illness also increase their risk of developing a substance abuse problem. For example, poverty, lack of social support, and exposure to trauma are well-known risk factors for both conditions. Both mental illness and substance abuse also appear to have a strong genetic component.
Lack of a clear diagnosis.
People who are living with mental illness don’t always recognize that they have a problem. They may know that they feel “off” but fail to understand that an illness is causing their symptoms. Not understanding the problem can push a person towards self-destructive coping mechanisms.
Unfortunately, mental health struggles are often mistakenly viewed as a personal weakness or a character defect. While there is also a stigma surrounding substance abuse, it’s often easier for a person to pass off their drug and alcohol abuse as liking to “party” instead of being a cry for help.
Difficulty accessing care.
There are multiple barriers that people may face as they try to get care for mental health concerns. They may not have adequate insurance coverage, not fully understand their existing benefits, or have trouble finding a suitable care provider in their area. In comparison, drugs and alcohol are easy to obtain in nearly every city in the U.S.
Mental illness typically leads to addiction when a person is bothered by their symptoms and begins to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. For example:
- Someone with PTSD may use addictive substances to try to block out nightmares and flashbacks.
- Someone with severe anxiety may drink excessively to feel less inhibited in social situations.
- Someone who is struggling with depression may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Someone who is taking medication for their mental illness may not like the side effects and use drugs or alcohol as an alternative instead of working with their doctor to find a more effective treatment option.
The problem with using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate is that substance abuse eventually exacerbates mental illness. Regular use of drugs and alcohol recalibrates a person’s brain chemistry and makes it impossible to function without the use of addictive substances. The body develops a dependence that leads to uncomfortable mental and physical withdrawal symptoms when a person is unable to use. However, the effects these substances have on mood and behavior will ultimately worsen the symptoms of a mental illness. In some cases, this can actually lead to the development of additional psychological disorders.
The Road to Recovery
No matter what struggles a person has had in the past, a better way of living is always possible. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we provide comprehensive care for men and women who have substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.
The concept of mental health means something different to everyone but generally refers to having the tools you need to feel, think, and act in a way that allows you to live your life as fully as possible. This includes:
- Working through past trauma so you can face the future with confidence
- Coping with stress without turning to addictive substances
- Expressing your thoughts and working together solve disagreements with others
- Being comfortable reaching out for help when you’re starting to struggle
At our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment center, our clients have access to individual, group, and family therapy, as well as a wide range of holistic treatments that help build the foundation for mental health and sober living. Contact us today to learn how you can begin your journey towards a brighter future.