The relationship between mental health and substance abuse is complicated and interrelated. We have previously written about destigmatizing substance use, and unfortunately, mental health issues are also often stigmatized. But by understanding these disorders and how they influence each other, we can create an environment that promotes healing and recovery.
It must be noted: not everyone with substance use disorder also experiences mental health issues. Nor does someone having mental health disorders mean that they will engage in substance use. But there is a strong correlation between the two that needs to be understood to offer better support to people struggling with these health issues.
Here are just a few of the ways that substance use disorder and mental health issues impact and interact with each other:
Shared Risk Factors
Both mental health issues and disordered substance use are caused by the same risk factors, such as genetics, environment, and childhood trauma. Often these overlapping issues impact the same areas of the brain, also contributing to both disorders.
When a person is suffering from a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, turning to substances can be a way to escape or find relief from the symptoms these illnesses cause. But that relief is often short-lived. Substances also typically exacerbate mental health issues, and the complications from substance use – such as more isolation from loved ones or missing work – can compound mental health issues as well.
When someone stops using drugs and alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can include mental health side effects such as heightened anxiety, depression, and irritability. The cycle of quitting and relapsing can compound these issues by leading to a higher risk of further mental health complications.
Much like mental health issues can lead to substance use, substance use can increase a person’s vulnerability to developing mental health issues. Substance use can cause changes to the same areas of the brain that are impacted by mental health issues. Because of this, substance use can make a person more likely to develop or spark an underlying or dormant mental illness. There is also evidence that substance use can worsen symptoms of existing mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder.
How This Knowledge Makes a Difference
It is important to understand the relationship between mental health and substance use disorders. When we understand the nature of these disorders, we can create an environment that promotes healthy healing and recovery from either one or both health issues. And when we understand and treat people with these issues with dignity and compassion, we can support them on their journey to recovery and a brighter future.
We are proud to offer comprehensive care that helps our mothers make major steps towards a better life for themselves and their families.. If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Sojourner House for help.