According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), “There is a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances.”1 The research and study conducted by NBER focused on alcohol, cocaine, and tobacco use. It discovered when people suffer from various forms of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and so on, there was an increase in substance abuse by these individuals.
Given that their findings saw a strong correlation between mental illness and substance abuse patterns in alcohol, cocaine, and tobacco, it is safe to assume there is also a high probability of substance abuse and mental illness for other substances.
In fact, in 2012, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that people suffering from mental health conditions abused various substances 26.7% of the time, compared to 13.2% of the general public without mental disorders.2
Overcoming addiction through substance abuse treatment programs can be more challenging and difficult when the individual is also suffering from some form of mental illness disorder. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for this in the following sections.
Why Is Substance Abuse Higher in Those with Mental Illness Disorders?
Part of the reason why drug abuse rates are higher in people suffering from various mental illness disorders is that they will often try to self-medicate and control their mental illness on their own. For instance, someone with bipolar disorder might try to manage their manic behavior by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol to bring them down, and then use stimulants to get a buzz when they are feeling depressed.
In other cases, people who have been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder often end up taking various types of prescription medications. Some of these can have adverse side effects, so the individual self-medicates using other substances to offset the side effects. As a result, they end up abusing multiple drugs.
How Serious Is Prescription Drug Abuse by Those with Mental Disorders?
Prescription drug abuse is a growing concern in those with mental disorders. Part of the issue stems from certain drugs like benzodiazepines, which have a tranquilizing/sedating effect, such as Xanax (alprazolam). As the patient continues to take Xanax, s/he quickly builds up a tolerance to it. In order to offset the tolerance, the person has to increase their dosage to achieve the same effects they did when they first started taking the drug. Before long, this can develop into a devastating drug addiction.
Another concern is that certain drugs should only be taken for a short period of time because they are highly addictive, like Xanax. Yet, people continue to remain on these drugs far past the time they should have been switched to a different medication. By then, it is often too late, and an addiction has developed.
According to data collected and reviewed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, from 2004 through 2009 there was a 148.3% increase in emergency room visits from drug-related emergencies caused by Xanax.3
Overcoming a prescription drug addiction to Xanax or some other drug is not easily accomplished. With these addictive substances, simply stopping has serious risks, including seizures, heart attacks, and death. Rather, the individual needs to start an addiction treatment program that slowly weans them off the substance, yet at the same time addresses their mental disorder.
Can a Person Develop a Mental Disorder by Abusing Drugs?
If someone is at risk for mental illness due to family history or genetics, they can increase their risks for developing a mental disorder by abusing various drugs and illicit substances. Essentially, they “activate” the disorder, even if it has been latent and not a problem in the past.
Furthermore, for teens, abusing drugs during formative years while the brain and body are still developing can lead to mental disorders in the future. There are specific cognitive functions and brain growth that will not be fully developed until the late teens and early twenties.
Experimenting with drugs and alcohol and developing an addiction can alter the development processes. In essence, the effects of drugs on mental health results in mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder (ADD). In turn, these disorders are treated with prescription medications, which are frequently abused as well.
Further complicating the problem is that many adolescents obtain access to prescription drugs right out of their own families’ medicine cabinets, or from their friends. Since the tweens and teens abusing prescription medications are not prescribed the drugs, the side effects can be more pronounced, which can also lead to mental illness disorders.
To better illustrate the abuse of prescription drugs by teens, statistical and trend data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse from 2017 was compared to 2016 data for various prescription medications and abuse by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. The findings focused on specific drug classes and the percentage change from 2016 to 2017.4
Some of the findings uncovered include the following:
- There was an increase overall by 10.9% for any prescription drug (i.e., amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers, narcotics (not counting heroin), barbiturates, etc.).
- There was an increase of 0.8% for 8th graders, 2.2% for 10th graders and 2.7% for 12th graders in OxyContin abuse.
- The drug classes with the biggest increases were in amphetamines (Adderall) and tranquilizers (Xanax).
- The abuse of Adderall was reviewed on its own and resulted in an increase of 1.3% in 8th graders, 4% in 10th graders, and 5.5% in 12th.
- The abuse of all amphetamine drugs resulted in an increase of 3.5% in 8th graders, 5.6% in 10th graders, and 5.9% in 12th.
- The abuse of tranquilizers, like Xanax, saw an increase of 2% in 8th graders, 4.1% in 10th graders, and 4.7% in 12th.
It is important to stress the increases in prescription drug abuse were by tweens and teens who were not prescribed these drugs. Additionally, the abuse of prescription drugs by those aged 14 and older are the most commonly used substances, trailing behind marijuana and alcohol.4
The Impact of Chronic Drug Abuse Can Have for Mental Illnesses
Chronic substance abuse is when a person has become so addicted to a drug that they are dependent on it both psychologically and physically. They strongly believe they cannot function, both mentally and physically, without taking the drug. Even if they realize they have a substance abuse problem, they are reluctant to stop.
This creates what is referred to as a co-occurring, comorbid, or dual disorder. This type of disorder is hard to diagnose sometimes because the individual may only present with signs of substance abuse or symptoms related to their mental disorder. However, upon further examination and time with the patient, it is uncovered there are indeed multiple issues that must be addressed: overcoming their addiction and substance abuse problems and treating the mental disorder.
In the medical community, there is much debate about whether chronic substance abuse creates mental health disorders or if mental health disorders are the cause of chronic substance abuse. Yet, what most healthcare professionals do agree upon, is while there is indeed a close correlation between the two, one condition is not the direct cause of the other.
Why Substance Abuse Treatment Is Essential to Recovery
In co-occurring disorders, substance abuse treatment is vital to a successful recovery. Treatment needs to be tailored to fit the individual’s mental disorder and substance abuse patterns. Being able to identify and work through co-occurring disorders is critical to the success of any person who struggles with substance abuse and mental illnesses.
The objective is to not only slowly wean the person off of the prescription medications they have become addicted to, but also to focus on other substances they are abusing, as well as developing effective holistic methods for treating their mental disorder. Taking this approach guides the individual on a successful path to recovery.
To learn more about co-occurring disorders, rehab treatment programs, and other addiction treatment services, please feel free to contact BlueCrest Recovery Center at (973) 453-5384 today!