Substance abuse is an issue for more than 40 million Americans according to the 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). Of that number, the NSDUH found that 17 million experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder. This condition is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.
Either issue can develop first. Many people may develop a drug or alcohol problem to cope with their symptoms of mental illness. Others may notice changes in their mental health because drugs and alcohol affect their brain over time. Experts recognize the role mental health care plays in addiction recovery and now know that treating both issues at the same time is essential.
Recognizing Co-Occurring Disorders
Since dual diagnosis affects many people, it is essential to recognize the signs that someone has both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue. Individuals should consider the following questions to help determine if they or a loved one are affected by both concerns:
- Are alcohol or drugs used to cope with negative or unpleasant memories or feelings, control pain or the intensity of moods, face situations that frighten a person, or stay focused on tasks?
- Is there a relationship between substance use and mental health? For example, does the person become depressed when drinking? Or do they drink when they’re feeling anxious or bothered by unpleasant memories?
- Has a relative struggled with either a mental disorder or alcohol or drug abuse?
- Does the individual experience depression, anxiety, or feel out of balance even when they’re sober?
- Has the person been treated for either addiction or mental health problems in the past? Did the substance abuse treatment fail because of complications from any mental health issue or vice versa?
Treatment for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders
The best way to care for someone with a substance abuse problem and a mental health concern is to address both issues together. Because these issues affect each individual differently, they should receive a personalized treatment plan to address their specific concerns and needs.
The first step in dual diagnosis treatment should be a detox program. An inpatient program will help the person through the process of drugs and alcohol leaving their body. Medical professionals can deal with any side effects during this period safely.
Next, the person will need to attend a rehab program that incorporates therapy, support, medication, and health services. Such a program should address all aspects of their addiction recovery and any mental health issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective form of therapy for dual diagnosis. CBT guides each person in developing new ways of coping with ineffective thinking patterns that may contribute to their substance abuse. Medications can also play a role in a person’s recovery, either for substance use withdrawal symptoms, mental health issues, or both.
After rehab, an individual may want to consider continuing their treatment in supportive housing. These types of residences can serve as a space for the person to begin transitioning back to everyday life.
Finally, regular attendance in peer support or self-help groups provides a space with others who are also dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues. These meetings offer a place to form healthy friendships and exchange tips and encouragement as participants work to achieve long-term recovery.
Caring for Mental Health
Even for individuals who do not have a dual diagnosis, mental health plays a vital role in the long-term success of their recovery. That is because mental health affects people’s emotional, psychological, and social makeup, influencing their experiences, stress level, and life choices.
Anyone in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse should incorporate a mental health focus into their care. The first step is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising are essential goals for everyone, but these are especially beneficial in addiction recovery. That is because sleep, diet, and exercise play significant roles in mental health, as more and more research has shown. For instance, studies out of Harvard have indicated how poor sleep habits impact mental health. Additional evidence shows that exercise can shift moods and make an impact on psychological care.
Incorporating regular check-ups for other medical conditions is also critical. For example, individuals should take any necessary medications and get annual wellness visits. Preventative treatment for other health conditions plays a role in preventing triggers that could lead a person with a substance use disorder to relapse.
Finally, developing and maintaining healthy connections with friends and family can play a pivotal role in improving an individual’s chances of long-term recovery. Healthy relationships provide a sense of love and acceptance that can help people feel they have a purpose greater than themselves.
At Bridges of Hope, our treatment philosophy includes a comprehensive and integrated approach to address all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices to provide superior patient care in Indiana through our all-inclusive treatment services.