Addiction and mental illnesses are serious, life-changing conditions that are rooted in the brain. Diagnosing and treating these conditions is not as straightforward as physical conditions, but they can be treated and managed successfully. While it can seem hopeless living with the challenges of a mental illness or a substance addiction, there is hope and there is help.
Alcohol and Drug Addiction
Addiction was long considered a moral failing, but modern research has proven that this is truly a disease. Misuse of alcohol and drugs causes changes to the structure and chemistry of the brain that make stopping extremely challenging. These changes cause withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and an inability to experience normal levels of pleasure when sober.
And addiction is unfortunately not uncommon. According to statistics, nearly ten percent of Americans need treatment for either addiction to alcohol or drugs, or both. Treatment can be effective, but only eleven percent of people who need it actually get it. Without treatment, addiction can lead to serious consequences for an individual’s mental health and physical health, as well as other consequences, like financial difficulties or legal problems. Addiction can also lead to death.
Addiction is often grouped together with mental illnesses. They are similar in that they both involve the brain. Mental illness refers to specific diagnoses of a condition that affects mental health. While everyone may experience poor mental health from time to time, only some people will ever be diagnosed with a mental illness. Statistics estimate that about 20 percent of adults are diagnosed with a mental illness in a given year.
The most common mental illnesses are mood disorders, which include anxiety disorders and depression. Other examples of mental illnesses include obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders. As with addiction, mental illnesses can be effectively treated by professionals.
Mental Health and Addiction Are Intertwined
Mental illness and addiction are connected to each other in multiple ways. For example, they often co-occur. Someone with a mental illness is at a greater risk for having an addiction, and vice versa. There are a few explanations for this phenomenon. One is that both types of conditions have similar risk factors: genetics and family history, an experience of trauma, and a lot of stress.
Another reason these two types of conditions are related is that one may trigger the other. Someone with an undiagnosed mental illness may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope or self-medicate. On the other hand, drug use can trigger symptoms of mental illness or exacerbate them. As with addiction, when mental illness goes untreated it can lead to significant impairments: relationship problems, poor physical health, and even suicide.
The good news for anyone struggling with addiction, mental illness, or both, is that there is hope. Modern treatment for both conditions is based on evidence and is proving to be effective at managing them as chronic illnesses, much like a doctor and patient may manage diabetes or high blood pressure.
Effective treatment for mental illnesses and addiction has many components: long-term care, three months or more, individualized plans, behavioral therapies, social and group support, and medications where appropriate. The earlier a mental illness or addiction is diagnosed and addressed, the sooner treatment can begin. The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcomes. If you are struggling, reach out and ask for help from a loved one and then see a mental health professional for an evaluation and guidance for treatment.