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Mental Illness and Self-Medicating: What’s the Connection?

Mental-Illness-and-Self-Medicating-Whats-the-ConnectionSelf-medicating is a term that many people use to describe their use of substances as a way of coping with difficult emotional or mental states. It is not uncommon for those experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders to report that they initially tried to deal with their anxiety, mood disorder or psychosis by “self-medicating” with alcohol or drugs.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 50 percent of individuals with severe mental health disorders are affected by substance use. In addition, 37 percent of alcohol users and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.

This data begs the question: Why is there this clinical overlap? Why do so many people who struggle with mental illness also struggle with substance use disorders?

A lot of it stems from the fact that substance use disorders and mental illness involve some of the same pathways and structures in the brain—and additionally, are similarly influenced by stress, genetics and environmental factors.

Additionally, some patients with mental health disorders use alcohol and drugs to try to minimize their pain and control their symptoms. However, the results often show that self-medication only exacerbates the symptoms of mental health disorders.

It is important to be aware of the warning signs of mental health disorders and self-medication as they may manifest in friends and family members. Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Drinking/getting high during periods of high anxiety or intense emotions
  • Experiencing a worsening mood or degenerating mental health when getting drunk or high
  • Experiencing escalating financial, relational, legal, or general health problems
  • Using prescription drugs in a way other than how they were prescribed
  • Using someone else’s prescription drugs

Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment is ultimately the best way to treat both the substance use and mental health disorder. If you have a family member who meets the criteria for self-medication, the time to act is now. Contact WestBridge to learn more about dual diagnosis care.

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