The War between Mental Health & Addiction

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

The very utterance of the phrase “mental illness” sends people over the edge. I know for sure I can speak for myself, as I vividly recall being trailed down the hall of the psych unit in my 1st year as a pharmacy resident. It felt like a scene off of Thriller and although I knew quite a bit about the psychiatric diseases it still didn’t smooth out my own fears about arriving face to face with that enraged patient.

It’s clear that many people place negative connotations on mental illness. However, I believe it’s been perceived this way simply because people have no clear understanding of how it’s caused. Narcotic substance abuse is just one of many factors (i.e. familial history, environmental, excessive stress, and childhood traumas and abuse) and a co-morbid condition associated with mental health diseases and vice versa.

The BIG questions :

1). Does acute, chronic, or sub-clinical mental health diseases perpetuate drug/substance abuse and addiction?


2) Does drug/substance abuse provoke mental health issues?

Approximately 50 percent of individuals that experience mental illness will also deal with substance abuse disorder according to several nationally published surveys. People who suffer with generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder are noted to have a high prevalence for substance abuse, in particular recreational use of prescription opioids

After a deeper dive, I discovered that the adolescent population stands out like a sore thumb with approximately 60 percent of them in substance abuse rehabilitation programs also meeting DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for an associated mental illness. (NIDA)The latter is not surprising considering the wealth of literature associating drug addiction and mental disorders to alterations in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine (mainly) and GABA. Many of the “uppers’’ (i.e. cocaine, MDMA aka Ecstasy/Molly) and “downers” (i.e. heroin, opioids aka hydrocodone/oxycodone) all affect dopamine and several other chemicals in the brain which can even mimic mental illnesses like bipolar, schizophrenia, or major depressive disorder. In turn, those mental illnesses are all amplified by extreme imbalances in dopamine, serotonin, GABA and/or noradrenaline (to name a few).

It’s imperative that any person impacted by mental illness and/or drug addiction seek professional help to stabilize their acute conditions with long-term goals aimed at providing resources and treatment that help direct the patient to an independent and productive lifestyle.

The National Drug Helpline is a 24/7 1-888-633-3239 for those suffering with addiction and the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-NAMI are both great resources for those in need.

Script for Success segments are aimed at providing brief healthcare information to our audience of readers.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse American Psychiatric Association National Alliance on Mental Illness

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