Substance abuse is a major public health concern, as it can have severe and long-lasting effects on an individual's physical and mental health. Engaging in substance abuse increases the risk of developing addiction, which is a chronic brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and use, despite the harmful consequences it brings. Apart from addiction, substance abuse can also lead to the onset or worsening of mental health conditions (SAMHSA, 2019).
Mental Health Effects of Substance Abuse
Substance abuse can have significant negative effects on an individual's mental health. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2022), substance abuse can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Substance abuse can also exacerbate existing mental health disorders, making them more difficult to manage and treat. Additionally, substance abuse can lead to the development of substance-induced mental health disorders, such as substance-induced psychosis.
When an individual has both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2019), approximately 9.5 million adults in the United States had a co-occurring disorder in 2018. Individuals with co-occurring disorders may have a more difficult time achieving and maintaining recovery, as both disorders need to be addressed in treatment.
Treatment for Substance Use Disorders and Co-occurring Disorders
The most effective treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders is integrated treatment, which simultaneously addresses both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder. NIDA states that integrated treatment can include behavioral therapies, medications, and support services. Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management, can help individuals develop coping skills and manage cravings. Medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine for opioid use disorders, can help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Support services, such as case management and peer support, can help individuals address other issues that may be contributing to their substance use and mental health disorders, such as housing or employment. (Spencer et al., 2021)
It is important for individuals with substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders to seek treatment as soon as possible, as the longer these disorders go untreated, the more difficult they can be to manage and treat. Treatment can be obtained through a variety of settings, including outpatient clinics, residential treatment centers, and hospitals. SAMHSA offers a behavioral health treatment locator on their website to help individuals find treatment in their area. With the right treatment and support, recovery is possible, and individuals can go on to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
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NIDA. (2022, September 27). Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019, August). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
Spencer, A. E., Valentine, S. E., Sikov, J., Yule, A. M., Hsu, H., Hallett, E., Xuan, Z., Silverstein, M., & Fortuna, L. (2021). Principles of Care for Young Adults With Co-Occurring Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders. Pediatrics, 147(Suppl 2), 229–239. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-023523F
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). TIP 42: Substance Use Disorder Treatment for People With Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK571020/