In the 1980s, population survey data analysis began to show a correlation between drug abuse and mood disorders. More recently, studies quoted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse are clearly showing that those with anxiety or mood disorders are twice as likely to turn to substance abuse. Conversely, Drugabuse.gov states that “people diagnosed with drug disorders are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders.”
The presence of both drug addiction and symptoms of mental illness in the same individual is often referred to as dual diagnosis or comorbidity. Understanding dual diagnosis statistics is essential when approaching the topic of addiction rehabilitation and may even be important when treating mental illness.
Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug. The resulting compulsive behaviors that weaken the ability to control impulses, despite the negative consequences, are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.
Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?
Before looking at mental health and drug abuse as separate drivers of addiction, it is important to note that drug addiction itself is increasingly classified by many professionals and organizations as a mental illness, although some professionals disagree with categorizing it as such. Those that argue that addiction is a mental illness base their theory on research that shows that like other mental illnesses, the behavior of the addiction-affected individual’s brain function and structure is influenced and altered by continued abuse. In fact, as the quote above mentions, many of the same areas of the brain that are impacted by those suffering from depression are also impacted by consistent drug abuse.
Many people who have developed an addiction started using drugs as a form of self-medication for underlying mental disorders, with depression and anxiety being two of the most common. Addicts who also suffer from mental health problems often seek out drugs as as a way to either temporarily release themselves from situations contributing to their symptoms, or to reduce the impact of uncomfortable amygdala activation in the brain. An overactive amygdala results in many of the symptoms seen in various mental health conditions and depressant drugs like alcohol and opiates help slow down the action of the amygdala. Sadly, self-medicating with a drug that depresses the nervous system can also contribute to and increase other symptoms of emotional disorders. Additionally, these symptoms can be even more severe when impacted by substance withdrawal between uses.
According to a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it is estimated that close to 3.6% of the US population, or 8.4 million, have both a mental and substance use disorder. However, only 0.5%, or nearly 1.2 million, receive dual diagnosis or comorbidity treatment.
Treating depression or drug abuse on its own rarely solves both issues concurrently. Drug abuse is a complex condition that requires examining a person’s life, their triggers, and symptoms as a whole. Taking a wider approach to wholeness and recovery allows for a more customized treatment plan for each individual. The more individualized the treatment, the better chance a person has to avoid relapse, especially when dealing with dual disorders. Luckily, more drug rehabilitation programs are utilizing a combination of therapies, modalities, and medications that target both existing and developed mental health conditions, as well as the symptoms and causes of drug abuse. These comprehensive treatment methods continue to significantly increase the success rates of addiction rehabilitation and recovery across the nation.