The Connection Between Mental Illness and Addiction: Infographic

Michelle Rosenker

October 16, 2019

Today, mental illness is at an all-time high across the United States. It has become so pervasive that in 2018, 1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental illness. This represents 47.6 million people or 19.1% of the population. The most common mental illnesses impacting Americans are anxiety disorders, which include generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, and panic disorder. A startling 40 million people ages 18 and older experience an anxiety disorder, while another 17.7 million people grapple with depression. For many, both mental illnesses co-occur alongside one another. 

Studies show that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can cause interpersonal problems, impact one’s ability to obtain and maintain employment, and serious physical effects that can cost them their lives. On top of all of that, people with a mental illness are predisposed to turning to the use of drugs as a result of their illness, which can lead to a substance use disorder.

Mental Illness & Drug Addiction

Drug Use in the United States

In 2017, nearly 20 million Americans had a substance use disorder. Of those 20 million people, 38% of them were addicted to illicit drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine, meth). This breaks down to:

  • 966,000 cocaine users
  • 897,000 meth users
  • 652,000 heroin users

Another 1.7 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. Additionally, millions of people are prescribed benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin) in response to growing rates of anxiety disorders in the United States. As a result, many experts agree that the next drug-related epidemic America will face is a benzodiazepine epidemic.

Drug use, particularly opioid use, in the United States has become so uncontrollable that 130 people die each day from an opioid overdose. Not only that, but nearly half of those with a substance use disorder also have a mental illness. 

Risk Factors for Drug Use and Mental Illness

Drug use does not always cause a mental illness and a mental illness does not always lead to drug use. There are, however, several shared risk factors that contribute to high rates of both drug use and mental illness. These risk factors include the following:

  • Genetics — Our genetics tell us a lot about ourselves and who we come from. Through our bloodlines, we share many things, including our propensity to experience mental illness, drug use, or a combination of both. If your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, etc. have/had a substance use disorder and/or a mental illness, you are immediately predisposed from a genetic standpoint. Granted, genes can mutate over time but there still remains a strong link between drug use and mental illness and one’s genetics. 
  • Environment — You do not have to have a family history of drug use or mental illness to develop one or both. Your environment can play a critical role in your likelihood of developing a substance use disorder or mental illness. Specific environmental causes, such as living in poverty, domestic violence, community violence, sexual assault or rape, or even having one or more drug-addicted parents can trigger the onset of drug use or mental illness. Keep in mind that families with genetics that support addictive tendencies often have people who are active in their addictions, which can serve as a catalyst for poor environmental living. 
  • Developmental disorders — If you have a developmental disorder like autism, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or separation anxiety disorder, not only is it more likely that you will experience a mental illness, but your chances of abusing drugs is higher than those who do not have a developmental disorder. 

If you abuse drugs, you are automatically increasing your odds of developing a mental illness. The abuse of some drugs can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. Conversely, if you have a mental illness of any kind and do not get the appropriate treatment for it, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to turning to drugs to cope with your untreated symptoms. 

What Happens When Drug Use and Mental Illness Occur Simultaneously?

When a substance use disorder and mental illness co-occur, it is known as a dual diagnosis. Having a dual diagnosis is not uncommon, in fact, 9.2 million people in the country are currently experiencing it. But what happens when both conditions are occurring at the same time?

Depending on the type of drug that you are abusing and the kind of mental illness you have, you can exhibit any number of troubling symptoms. Typically, most people with a dual diagnosis experience:

  • Mood swings
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Feeling unable to function without drugs
  • Angry and irritable behavior
  • Mental confusion
  • Cognitive decline 

The ironic thing about these and other symptoms is that they create the perfect environment for someone to continue using drugs and ignoring the need for mental health treatment. As symptoms present themselves and intensify, both conditions get worse. For example, if you have panic disorder, your untreated symptoms can become so overpowering that it drives you to use more of whatever drug it is that you are using. Or, say you are addicted to meth. Your consistent use of this drug can lead to the onset of symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. When both issues are happening at the same time, it is vital to receive treatment for each condition at the same time, too.

Get Professional Addiction Treatment at JourneyPure Melbourne Right Now

At JourneyPure Melbourne, we know how troubling and destructive a dual diagnosis can be. We also know how difficult it is to hop off the rollercoaster ride that comes along with this type of diagnosis. When you come to us for help, we are ready to get you moving on your road to recovery. 

You do not need to live with a dual diagnosis. Instead, at JourneyPure Melbourne, we treat both your substance use disorder and your mental illness simultaneously. Known as integrated intervention, we offer countless therapies, exercises, and approaches proven to produce positive results in your recovery. 

So, do not wait any longer to reach out for the help you deserve. Call us at JourneyPure Melbourne right now.