When addiction is present, the road to good mental health is often full of obstacles. Stigma, fear and lack of effective treatment make this journey, for so many, extremely challenging.
When a person is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), he or she is physically and psychologically impacted. That impact can exacerbate pre-existing emotional conditions, while also limiting the effectiveness of therapy.
Approximately one in five U.S. adults has experienced some form of mental illness, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Of those 46.6 million adults, 8.5 million had both any mental illness and at least one SUD in the past year. An estimated 3.1 million adults had co-occurring severe mental illness and an SUD in the past year.
“Research indicates that 43% of people in SUD treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers have a diagnosis or symptoms of mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Mental health disorders and SUDs share contributing factors. In other words, one can aggravate the other. Once they are co-occurring, however, there is a proven, effective order to treatment: Address the physical substance dependence first.
Why Detox Has to Happen Before Therapy
Physical dependence on alcohol or opioids can be successfully treated with medical detoxification. Once a patient has been detoxed, they can be adequately diagnosed and have the physical capacity and emotional clarity to engage in treatment for underlying mental health disorders.
Any attempt at therapy while the patient is still battling a SUD is going to be starting at a severe disadvantage. The better chance for the patient’s success is to detox first.
Common Contributing Factors Between Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders
SUDs and mental health disorders share many common factors. NIDA has identified the following as the most common:
- Genetic vulnerabilities
- Epigenetic influences, which can include the ways in which environmental factors like stress and drug exposure affect how genetic information is acted on by cells in the body
- Brain region involvement
- Environmental influences
- Trauma and adverse childhood experiences
These same risk factors are often cited by people as the reasons they began misusing or abusing alcohol and drugs. “It is commonly hypothesized that individuals with severe, mild, or even subclinical mental disorders may use drugs as a form of self-medication,” reported NIDA.
How Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness Feed Off Each Other
Unfortunately, those common risk factors that lead to co-occurring SUDs and mental health disorders and that motivate people to self-medicate also make both types of disorders worse. “Although some drugs may temporarily reduce symptoms of a mental illness, they can also exacerbate symptoms, both acutely and in the long run,” according to NIDA.
NIDA reported that individuals with mental illness experience changes in their brain activity that make them more vulnerable to substance misuse and abuse. These vulnerabilities are seen in the following ways:
- Enhanced rewarding effects of substances
- Reduced awareness of negative effects of substances
- Alleviated unpleasant symptoms of the mental disorder
- Alleviated side effects of the medication used to treat the mental disorder
Conversely, people with no mental illness can be prone to developing a mental health disorder after prolonged substance use. “Drug use that precedes the first symptoms of a mental illness may produce changes in brain structure and function that kindle an underlying predisposition to develop that mental illness,” according to NIDA. “Substance use can lead to changes in some of the same brain areas that are disrupted in mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, mood, or impulse-control disorders.”
Effective Medical Detox Treatment and Aftercare for Physical and Mental Wellness
The relationship between SUDs and mental health disorders is as complex as the histories of people suffering from these conditions. Therefore, in order to achieve success, an individualized and integrated approach to treatment is necessary.
Waismann Method®, for example, specializes in providing effective medical detoxification protocols tailored to individuals’ health needs. Its treatment starts with a comprehensive medical evaluation to help disentangle various symptoms of substance use disorder and other conditions. The medical detox is performed by a quadruple board-certified medical doctor with over 20 years of experience in medically assisted detoxification and rapid detox procedures.
After completing detoxification, patients are discharged to Domus Retreat, a recovery center specifically designed to help people throughout the challenges of the post-detox adjustment period. Now free of their substance dependence, individuals and mental health professionals can design the most productive and effective path to achieve and sustain overall health.
The Waismann Treatment™ and Domus Retreat team works from the premise of carefully listening to and seeing each patient. Gaining a thorough understanding of each person’s strengths, difficulties and fears allows the team to support and guide them while providing the best path forward.
Published on May 15, 2019
Reviewed by Clare Waismann, CATC, Founder of Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence
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