It’s not unusual for people to suffer mental health issues and substance abuse problems, sometimes independently of one another and sometimes simultaneously. Someone’s medical history, genetics, and other factors can play a role in developing these conditions but knowing what to look for will help inform treatment decisions.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse refers to instances where people use a drug, sometimes illegal, to the point it triggers problems at home, work, school, and elsewhere. “Substance abuse, as a recognized medical brain disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal substances, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Or it may be the abuse of legal substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription medicines. Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 20 million American adults battle substance abuse disorders. Fortunately, it can be treated.

Common Mental Health Disorders

People struggling with substance abuse may also be diagnosed with one or more mental health problems. Some of the more common include:

  • Depression and other mood disorders “are the most common psychiatric comorbidities among patients with substance use disorders.”
  • According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, anxiety disorders are also closely linked to alcohol and other substance abuse.
  • Someone who has schizophrenia is three times more likely to also suffer from substance abuse.
  • Personality Disorders

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimates that almost 53 million American adults suffer from mental health issues.

Know the Symptoms

Symptoms of substance abuse may include:

  • Secret or suspicious behaviors
  • Fluctuations in hunger or sleep habits
  • Low motivation
  • Being afraid
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Tremors

Symptoms of mental illness may include:

  • Trouble thinking or reduced concentration
  • Extreme fear, worry, and guilt
  • High or low moods
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Fatigue, low energy, or sleeping troubles 
  • Detachment from reality
  • Can’t deal with daily stress or problems 
  • Relationship issues
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use

Which Comes First: Substance Abuse or Mental Health Disorders? 

A more appropriate question may be: Can substance abuse and mental disorders co-occur? The answer is yes. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 53 percent of people with a mental health disorder also experience substance abuse problems, and 29 percent reporting a mental health disorder also experiences an addiction disorder at some point in their lives. Whether one comes before the other depends on many factors. 

But what’s a co-occurring disorder? Co-occurring disorders signal the presence of two or more behavioral health disorders in the same person. “The term is often used to describe any mental health disorder that is accompanied by substance abuse, a problem that affects millions of Americans. The reasons may vary widely from one individual to the next, but the symptoms are sometimes very similar.” 

There seems to be little evidence that one happens before the other, but rather that they can co-occur for many reasons:

  • Certain illegal substances can make someone with addiction have one or multiple symptoms of a mental health issue
  • Mental health issues may sometimes result in alcohol or drug use because people suffering from a mental health problem will misappropriate certain substances to self-medicate
  • Mental health disorders and substance use disorders have common underlying causes, like brain composition, genetic weaknesses, and childhood exposure to tension or trauma.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the presence of a substance use disorder and a mental illness in the same person is common among people enrolled in medication-assisted treatment.

Diagnosis & Treatment

A medical professional or qualified mental health specialist typically diagnoses substance abuse. Final determination often depends on the substance misused, frequency of use, the interval between the substance being used, and many other symptoms listed above. In most cases, mental health issues are diagnosed by a mental health specialist but sometimes take place after seeing your healthcare provider for a physical examination. The goal of either exam is to discover an underlying cause and whether illness, personal or family medical history or something else is triggering symptoms.

Particular medicine can treat these conditions, plus psychotherapy, self-help, and ketamine therapy.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues, don’t wait until symptoms of either begin seriously affecting your quality of life or those around you. With diagnosis and proper care, warning signs of either can be managed. One treatment option to ask about is ketamine therapy.