Treading Carefully with Mental Disorders and Addiction

7 mins read

Did you know one in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness in any given year? That equates to about 43.8 million people.

Not all these cases are diagnosed, meaning people might be unknowingly living with a mental disorder. On top of that, there are even more individuals who have an undiagnosed mental disorder who also have some type of substance addiction.

Mental Disorders and Addiction

While there is not much known about how psychiatric disorders affect the likelihood someone will develop an addiction or vice versa, what most psychologists tend to understand is that one does not beget the other. What came first, the chicken or the egg? There might be drug or alcohol abusers who then start to display mental disorders and, on the flip side, those who suffer from a mental illness like depression then turn to drugs or alcohol and become addicted.

Some of the critical factors that can affect a person’s likelihood to develop a mental illness, an addiction, or both include genetic vulnerabilities that make a person predisposed to an addiction or mental illness, deficits in brain development, and exposure to high levels of stress or trauma at a young age. Genetics can play a huge part in whether an individual develops an addiction; some researchers estimate 40-60% of a person’s likelihood to develop an addiction is related to genetics.

One of the most common pairs of mental disorders and addiction we see is alcohol and bipolar disorder. In the case of bipolar disorder, experts haven’t fully unraveled the genetic link for the disorder. In the case of alcoholism, studies have found that the SWI/SNF protein complex in genes can change tolerance for alcohol.

Schizophrenia and tobacco use are another common pairing as tobacco can help lessen the symptoms of schizophrenia. The mental disorder is still not well understood from a genetic perspective, and tobacco is known for its incredibly addictive properties.

How to Identify Mental Disorder with Addiction

There’s no precise formula for identifying someone with both a mental disorder and addiction. In most cases, you need to be able to identify the symptoms a person is displaying and understand which symptom corresponds to which disorder.

How to Identify Mental Disorder with Addiction

These are common signs of a mental disorder:

  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Social withdrawal

These are common signs of addiction, mostly for substances:

  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sweaty or shaky hands
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Paranoia
  • Social withdrawal

As you can see, there are a number of overlapping symptoms between mental disorder and addiction. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, make a note of these feelings to describe to a professional if and when you or your loved one decides to visit a psychiatrist.

What’s Life Like with a Mental Disorder and Addiction?

There are good days and bad days when you have both a mental disorder and addiction. Before treatment, your life is beholden to your mental illness and your addiction. With the example of schizophrenia and tobacco, you would be in a constant cycle of being paranoid and smoking to take the edge off.

What’s Life Like with a Mental Disorder and Addiction?

After treatment, you’ll have some days that feel like you’re back to normal whereas other days you’ll feel like you’re slipping back into your addiction or mental illness.

What are the Treatment Options?

With the right combination of therapy and pharmaceuticals, individuals who are both addicted and have a mental disorder.

What are the treatment options for mental disorders and addiction?

There are a number of drug classifications that help treat mental disorders like depression. These include SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, dopamine rebuke blockers, MAOIs, and noradrenergic antagonists.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They work by decreasing the amount of serotonin your brain reuptakes to leave more freely available in the brain. Familiar brands include Zoloft, Prozac, and Luvox. A doctor will work with you to find the right prescription and dosage to help you fight depression.

Bipolar disorder adds another extreme to the mix. Those with bipolar disorder experience highs (mania) and lows (depression). Most doctors will start by prescribing a mood stabilizer which helps combat the two extremes bipolar patients experience. Bipolar patients might also receive antipsychotics or benzodiazepines to help them sleep.

When it comes to treating addiction and substance withdrawal, doctors turn to similar drugs that they use to treat mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder. During withdrawal from treatment centers, doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines and antidepressants along with clonidine. Opioid addiction is another pressing issue facing the U.S., and more than 2 million people are estimated to be addicted to opioids in the form of prescription painkillers. For more severe addictions like opioid addiction, medical professionals will turn to buprenorphine, suboxone, and naltrexone to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and lessen dependence on opioids.

Because addictions and mental disorders depend so much on the particular brain chemistry of each patient, there is no one size fits all answer for all those who seek treatment who have a mental disorder, addiction or both.

Seeking Professional Help

In most cases, the first step to admitting you or a loved one might need professional help is the hardest. We often don’t want to admit something is wrong which can lead us further to depression, anxiety, or addiction.

After seeking professional help, your doctor will try to understand your condition, diagnose it, and prescribe drugs which can help you fight your mental disorder and addiction.

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