Drug addiction is a condition that frequently occurs with other mental disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Care Administration, nearly 9 million individuals have a co-occurring illness. Yet, just 7 percent of these people receive treatment for both conditions. And almost 60% receive no treatment at all.
What is Comorbidity?
Comorbidity means that two conditions, such as mental illness and substance abuse, often coexist. For many people with addictions, there is an underlying mental health issue. While neither condition causes the other, they do often exist together. What’s more, one disease can exacerbate the symptoms of the other.
The brain changes caused by substance abuse occur in the same areas that are impacted by depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Hence, there is a high comorbidity rate between addiction and other mental illnesses. Certain mental health conditions raise the risk factors for drug abuse, which suggests that certain people with mental disorders would resort to alcohol or drugs to deal with the pain of their mental health problems.
Risk Factors of Comorbidity
Even though there is a high comorbidity rate between addiction and mental illness, it does not mean that one causes the other. Instead, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, several factors need to be considered.
Drug abuse may lead to one or more mental disorders in people. Among certain marijuana users, there is also an elevated risk of psychosis.
Psychiatric problems can lead to drug or alcohol abuse because some people use substances to self-medicate. People who have schizophrenia may use tobacco products to alleviate the symptoms of the illness.
There is also some evidence indicating that addictions and mental illnesses are caused by underlying brain deficits, genetic influences, or exposure to trauma early in life. It is estimated that 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction is due to genetics.
Age is a common factor between mental health issues and addiction. People are still developing, maturing, and growing during the teen years. This means significant changes in the brain occur during adolescence. For instance, teenagers are more likely to take risks and act impulsively. While common among teens, these behaviors can influence the risk of addiction and other mental disorders.
Finally, physically or emotionally traumatized people are at a much higher risk of substance abuse and possibly even addiction. It is particularly concerning for veterans returning to the country. One in five military servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or significant depression symptoms.
Research indicates that it is crucial to treat co-occurring conditions simultaneously. In reality, it helps when individuals with both an addiction and a mental health problem receive integrated care for the best result. Doctors and counselors will address and treat both conditions together with integrated care, which lowers treatment costs and creates better outcomes for patients.
Also, early diagnosis and treatment of both conditions will significantly enhance the individual’s recovery and quality of life.
The Bottom Line
For a patient’s success, having the right diagnosis of both an addiction and a mental health condition is important. Their probability of survival improves as this happens. There needs to be greater awareness of comorbidity. One of the disorders goes undiagnosed and untreated too many times. Once the treatment for coexisting conditions improves, this will help reduce the social stigma that makes people reluctant to pursue the treatment they need.