Mental Health

Why Substance Abuse and Mental Disorders Co-Occur

Truth be told, there are multiple reasons for this complex interplay. Many times it is observed that individuals with mental health disorders turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. They rely on substances to alleviate their symptoms of mental health disorders. 

On the other hand, prolonged alcohol or drug abuse results in mental health disorders. For instance, marijuana users are at an increased risk of developing psychosis

There is also a handful of research that suggests that substance use disorders and mental health syndromes are caused by overlapping factors. 

Epigenetic and genetic vulnerabilities, underlying brain deficits, and exposure to trauma or stress are believed to contribute to substance use disorders and mental illness. But of all the risk factors, genetics is estimated to account for 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to substance use disorders. 

Trauma also plays a significant role in increasing a person’s risk of substance use disorders. Individuals who are emotionally or physically traumatized are at an increased risk of SUDs. This is especially concerning for members of the armed forces returning to the country. Several studies reveal post-traumatic stress disorder is among the most prevalent mental disorders among United States veterans. 

A handful of studies also suggest that half of all veterans who have PTSD also have a coexisting substance abuse issue. 

Integrated Treatment Approaches: Addressing Substance Use and Mental Health Holistically

As substance use disorder and mental health syndrome are interrelated, it’s advisable to treat them at the same time. Individuals with addictions and mental health issues should seek integrated treatment for the best outcome. 

With integrated treatment, therapists, counselors, and doctors can treat both issues concurrently. Besides lowering treatment costs, this often results in better outcomes. Also, finding a therapist who treats SUDs and mental disorder syndromes at the same time isn’t difficult. A simple Google search for “therapist near me” will bring forth numerous options. 

Zencare advises people to look for therapists who have specialty training in the treatment of addiction. Also, it’s best to work with a therapist with specific credentials, such as Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).

Having said that, here’s a quick rundown of a few behavioral therapies that promise to treat individuals with comorbidity:

I. Cognitive behavioral therapy– It helps patients cope with difficult situations by changing behaviors and challenging irrational thoughts.

II. Assertive community treatment– It emphasizes an individual treatment approach and outreach to the community. 

III. Dialectical behavior therapy– It teaches patients skills to reduce self-destructive behaviors such as thoughts of self-harm, control intense emotions and improve relationships. 

A Final Word

Receiving a correct diagnosis of both mental health issues and substance use disorders is critical for a patient’s success. Their chance of recovery increases when they receive a proper diagnosis. Bear in mind that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the treatment of dual diagnosis. Treatment plans vary from person to person. 

While adopting an integrated treatment approach is the best way to manage comorbidity, there needs to be increased awareness. Otherwise, the social stigma associated with therapy will make people reluctant to seek assistance. 


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker