Addiction and mental illness are separate conditions, but they greatly influence each other. The relationship can be understood through an example: for a person with an inflammation due to a cut finger, the injury happened first and the inflammation was a result of the injury, but now they are linked.
There has been a historical stigma or discrimination regarding mental illness and addiction that unfortunately continues due to ignorance of the facts. In medieval times people with mental illness were treated very poorly and were often believed to be “possessed” by evil beings. We now know that mental illness is caused by a malfunction within the brain and is not within the control of the person experiencing the condition.
No one would blame a person with appendicitis for the disease. But a common belief is that a person with a mental illness like depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can simply decide not to be depressed or obsessive. It is not so.
Factors contributing to disorder
Varying factors contribute to the development of mental illness, including family history or genetics. If one or more blood relatives have a particular mental illness, the probability of their descendants having the same problem increases. Environmental circumstances can also contribute to mental illness like stress, trauma and drug use in young age. Trauma includes physical and sexual abuse and severe neglect.
Areas of the brain that respond to reward and pleasure are generally impaired by addiction. The same areas also respond to stress and thus may show changes in patients with mental illness. Many mental illnesses begin during teen years when young brains are developing. Early exposure to drugs can damage a developing brain, another good reason for teens to keep away from drugs.
Drug or alcohol abuse can trigger mental disorders like depression. However, the reverse is also true, a mental health disorder can also force someone to take up drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication.
People who view addiction as a character flaw need to read on the subject to learn about it. No one decides to be mentally ill just as no one decides to be physically ill. Mental illness can affect any person at any time and no one is exempt.
Dual diagnosis needs treatment
Some believe there is a treatment out there that will work for all forms of drug abuse, there is not. Just as each patient with cancer receives different treatment and therapy so it is with drug use.
Many people harbor the myth that drug addiction is voluntary and a person should be able to do something about it. The fact is that the first drug use is voluntary but later it turns into an addiction and as it does, changes in brain functions make it almost impossible for a person to give up drugs without help.
When a person enters a reputable treatment center for addiction to drugs or alcohol, they are examined for the presence of any underlying condition that also needs treatment. For example, if a person with depression begins to use drugs as a form of self-medication and becomes addicted they then have a mental illness and an addiction. This is known as dual diagnosis. Both the conditions should be treated simultaneously for a holistic recovery.
Discrimination against people with addiction or a mental illness will change in the coming generations. Younger people are more aware compared to their elders regarding the causes and consequences of addiction and mental illness and are far less likely to discriminate unfavorably.
At Sovereign Health, all patients are assessed for any underlying condition and an individual treatment plan is designed to ensure that all conditions are treated concurrently. Patients receive state-of-the-art therapy for mental disorders, addiction and dual diagnosis. Call our 24/7 helpline for further information.
About the author
Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former registered nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.