Sunday, November 16, 2014

Guest Post: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
Author: Jon Huynh

Mental illness in any form is very troubling for both individuals that have to cope with their own afflictions and also for those attempting to assist individuals with healing. This difficulty is a result of the complex nature of mental diseases which can be challenging for professionals to address-- let alone inexperienced friends and family members. Contributing greatly to this complexity is that a particular disease is often simultaneously a disease itself and a symptom of other illnesses.

This tangled relationship between different mental diseases means that they can often aggravate and serve as triggers for one another. Mental disease like depression can cause individuals to seek out mind and mood altering substances in a process commonly referred to as “self medicating”. Individuals do this in an attempt to alleviate the difficult circumstances of their affliction.This behavior is often associated with another mental disorder: addiction.

While addiction isn't exclusively limited to chemical substance abuse, this type of addiction is particularly dangerous because both behavior and the chemical substances have a powerful affect on mental stability. Substance abuse exacerbated by other mental illnesses like depression is difficult to treat because of the cycle that develops between the two. That is, depression drives an individual to self medicating, but the resulting addiction drives the individual back toward depression.

To make a full recovery, all aspects of mental illness and addiction have to be addressed.This means, individuals must first be properly diagnosed by a professional. Then, the individual’s unique addiction cycle must be addressed. Generally, this is done by treating the individual for their substance abuse itself and for any existing mental conditions which contribute to their cycle of abuse.

Mental Illness
Since mental illnesses can trigger, aggravate, and act as symptoms for other ailments, they are difficult to diagnose and treat. For example, an individual may be correctly diagnosed with depression, but depending on how they experience depression, they may also have bipolar, manic, or anxiety disorders as well. All of these types of disorders indicate some sort of chemical imbalances in the brain. For some, these imbalances may be temporary indicating that they are the result of circumstantial conditions like high amounts of stress or physical trauma. Though for others, these imbalances may be more permanent, alluding to a genetic predisposition or birth defect. Whatever the underlying causes, individuals suffering from these conditions often experience feelings of permanent hopelessness, regardless of their personal circumstances.

Some individuals may even recognize that something is wrong, but feel a complete inability to function because of the feelings of hopelessness and despair that are common with these types of diseases. These feelings can be the precursor for self medication, which is often the trigger for dependency and addiction. While individuals may feel temporary relief from some of the symptoms of their mental illness, substance abuse inevitably makes these symptoms worse, and ultimately much more difficult to treat.

Substance Abuse and Chemical Addiction

Addiction isn't exclusive to substance abuse. Individuals can become addicted to pornography, objects, food, and many other things. What makes substance abuse so dangerous is that both the chemical addiction and the behaviors associated with it can greatly alter an individual's mental and emotional stability. With chemical addiction, the focus is typically placed on how various chemicals affect the mind and body. In fact, the initial attraction individuals have to a particular substance is often how that chemical makes them feel when it alters their body chemistry.

For individuals suffering from depression, a drug may offer temporary relief from what is otherwise a permanent state of discomfort. However, this is precisely what makes substance abuse so dangerous. At first, it may seem as though the feelings of temporary relief are signs of a permanent solution. Additionally, an individual may feel like they are retaking control of their life because they are able to control how they feel through the use of the drug. However, the longer an individual uses a substance to alter their body and mind, the more dependent they become on that substance to function. In the long term, the body can become physically and mentally addicted to that substance, permanently altering brain chemicals and body functions for the worse.

While the seriousness of the chemical effects of substance abuse can’t be stressed enough, they are not the only debilitating factors of substance abuse. What is often overlooked about chemical addictions are the behavioral aspects of the disease and how they contribute to mental stress.
In a web article by Renaissance Recovery Center located here, they detail many behaviors that change in individuals over the course of chemical dependence and addiction. However, it isn't just the changes in an individual’s behavior that are so devastating. It is also the consequences that result from that new behavior. For example, Renaissance Recovery notes that: “. . . deterioration in appearance, personal hygiene. . . [and] job performance. . .” are all common behavioral changes that individuals might experience in their dependency. Notice that with or without substance abuse tied into the equation, these behaviors are typical indicators for-- and contributing factors to-- depression related mental illnesses.

Treating Mental Illnesses and Substance Abuse
Treating mental illnesses is difficult in the first place, but substance abuse greatly compounds the issue. If an individual does have a chemical addiction, then both the addiction and other mental illnesses must be treated in order for the individual to make a recovery. Additionally, addiction is itself a mental disorder and can become entangled in the grey area between symptom and affliction, much like other depression related mental illnesses. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to diagnose and consequently effectively treat chemical dependency. This is why it is critical for individuals dealing with mental illness and chemical addiction to seek professional help. Inexperienced and unprofessional attempts to address these serious conditions can lead to permanently crippling circumstances.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the pains of mental illness and chemical dependency, please make an effort to contact a professional right away. There are a lot of organizations and resources that offer assistance in these matters. The aforementioned Renaissance Recovery Center is an example of a rehabilitation facility that regularly treats patients suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Time is critical in these issues. Both mental illness and substance abuse are painful conditions, but substance abuse can also lead to permanent damage, including worsening mental illness. Do the right thing and take action to assist yourself, or a loved one that is in need. The road to recovery may seem painful, but it is nothing in comparison to the potential suffering that comes from long term substance abuse.