New research from the US provides more support for the claim that there is a strong link between mental health problems and alcohol and drug abuse. Studies carried out by two universities (University of Southern California and Washington University) found that those with mental health issues were also far more likely to die prematurely as a result of substance abuse.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
Those dealing with a mental health problem along with an addiction are usually referred to as having a dual diagnosis. This population of substance abusers has traditionally been difficult to treat because they can wind up in a Catch-22 situation – it can be impossible to treat their mental health problems while they are still abusing alcohol or drugs, but it can be difficult to get them to break free from addiction due to their mental health symptoms.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of rehabs offering dual diagnosis treatment. This is a special programme where the individual has both problems dealt with at the same time. These specialised programmes have proven to be very effective for those who would once have been considered ‘hopeless cases’.
The Link between Mental Health Problems and Substance Abuse
There is a strong link between mental health problems and substance abuse. One of the reasons people may fall into this behaviour initially is an attempt to deal with an undiagnosed problem like depression or anxiety disorder. Alcohol and drugs are also very toxic to the mind as well as the body, and many develop addiction problems as a result of substance abuse.
The behaviour of turning to substance abuse to deal with a mental health problem is referred to as self-medication. In most cases, the individual will be completely unaware of the fact that they have this condition; they just know that when they drink or use drugs, they feel better. Self-medication can be effective initially, but in order to continue enjoying this symptom relief, the individual needs to use more and more of the substance. Eventually they reach a stage where the negative impact of using alcohol or drugs far outweighs any benefits. By the time the individual realises their situation, he or she is usually well on the way to addiction.
Substance abuse can significantly exacerbate mental health problems. One of the worst things that those with depression can do is turn to alcohol because this drug is a type of depressant; it makes depression worse. In fact, even those who have never suffered from depression can develop alcohol-induced depression if they abuse the substance. It is also possible for alcohol or drugs to make other mental health problems like anxiety, psychosis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder significantly worse.
Mental Health Problems, Addiction, and Premature Death
This latest research from the US indicates that those with mental health problems who fall into addiction are at a higher risk of an early death. This is easy to understand as the life expectancy for the average person caught up in addiction is just 15 years. There is also a very strong link between substance abuse and suicide; the majority of those committing suicide will have been drinking or using drugs beforehand.
It is vital that those dealing with mental health issues are given suitable treatment so they do not feel the need to turn to substance abuse for comfort. For this to happen, improvements need to be made in the detection of this type of problem, especially among young people. This could be done through health promotion targeted at the most vulnerable groups.