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The link between drug use and mental illness

Published On: 10-12-2015 in Category: Addiction, Drug Abuse, Mental Health, Mental Illness


Drug abuse may trigger a mental health disorder or, alternatively, a mental health disorder may trigger drug abuse. Comorbidity, or concurrent conditions, must be treated simultaneously in order to ensure a successful treatment outcome.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with mild forms of mental illness may turn to drugs as a form of self-medication. It is not uncommon for individuals suffering from mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, to mistakenly believe drugs can ease their tension or sadness. Drug use and mental health disorders are caused by associated factors such as brain deficits, genetic history and childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect or sexual assault.

Since drug abuse and mental illness are commonly present in tandem, a reputable treatment center will identify any underlying conditions upon admission – a process referred to as dual diagnosis. If a patient suffering from depression-related drug abuse is treated only for substance abuse, not the underlying reasons behind the abuse, the chance of relapse is very high.

NIH estimates that 40 to 60 percent of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction is related to genetics. Genes can also influence addiction indirectly by affecting a person’s stress level, for example, leading to addiction or mental illness. A 2008 study published in the journal World Psychiatry found that adolescent use of marijuana increased the risk of psychosis in adulthood but only in individuals with a specific gene pattern.

Some antidepressants and most antipsychotic medications directly affect dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for causing a feeling of pleasure similar to consuming tasty foods or using drugs. Influenced by dopamine levels, stress is contributory to a range of mental health disorders, providing a common neurobiological link between addiction and mental illness.

Drug abuse can occur at any stage of life but commonly begins in adolescence, which is also a time when the initial signs of mental illness commonly appear. Adolescence is a time when many changes are occurring in the brain that may enhance susceptibility to drug use and the development of addiction among other mental health disorders. Parts of the brain involving learning, memory, reward, decision-making and behavioral control mature in early adulthood and these parts are affected by drug abuse.

Evidence shows that drug use early in life is a risk factor for the later development of addiction. It may also be a risk factor for the development of mental illness depending upon genetics, life experience and environmental factors. For further information on mental illness and drug abuse treatment, please call to find a treatment center in your area.

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