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Why Addressing Mental Health is Important
for Addiction Recovery

Addressing mental health is important for addiction recovery.

Addiction is both mental and physical dependency on certain substances. Talking about recovery cannot begin without acknowledging various mental health factors first. If you're wondering why addressing mental health is important for addiction recovery, let's start at the very beginning.

Addiction begins where mental health ends - and vice versa

Before a person knocks on the devious doors of addiction, they usually spend some time in the lobby of doubt, anxiety, and depression. Substance abuse often comes as a relief of deep pain (more often mental than physical). Alcohol and drugs numb the intrusive thoughts that make a person sad or disturb their peace. However, both are only temporary, short-lasting solutions. Without proper care for mental health, a struggling person will engage in the repetitive behavior of taking substances. This will, in a very short time, lead to addiction.

On the other hand, a person who only started doing drugs and alcohol ''for fun'' will soon experience their physiological effects on their brains. By killing neurons off (marijuana, we're looking at you), or decreasing the numbers of neuronal receptors for neurotransmitters, substances slowly but steadily show their effects on a person's mental health. Once a happy and cheerful person will suddenly find it harder to feel joy and other positive emotions. Their comprehensive and social skills will decrease over time, making their psychological persona a shell and killing their mental health.

A healthy mind doesn't need artificial substitutes

Most cases of substance abuse begin when a person lacks something. It can be:

  • loving and being loved
  • feeling joy and genuine happiness
  • success and feeling fulfilled
  • and so many other things

A lot of emotional things missing in a person's life can be triggers for substance abuse. When there's a defect in emotional status, we can't say that the person is mentally healthy. We need to address and treat that before it evolves into addiction. If, however, an unwanted event occurs and the person becomes an addict, we mustn't forget to treat the underlying issue at the same time.

When a psychiatrist diagnoses addiction (as it is an illness), it's almost never a singular diagnosis. The underlying issue and addiction together make a dual diagnosis. As it is a serious and complex thing, a person struggling with it needs to seek professional treatment. Focusing on one problem only will just prolong the suffering and will not bring results.

Addiction and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental disorder associated with drug and alcohol abuse (after anxiety and depression). A great trauma that someone experiences pressures them so much that they often find instant relief in the form of consuming drugs or enormous amounts of alcohol. If that person goes through all of the steps of addiction recovery without addressing the cause of their PTSD, they will return to the old habit in no time.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings (''disorders'' is a better word) - a person experiences extreme highs and extreme lows in some period, with a fast switch. This one is particularly interesting. When the person is on the high side of the mood specter (and saying it like this is a huge understatement), they experience the high that can only be achieved with some serious drugs in high concentration. When the high ends, the ''low'' is actually often a severe depression, and the path to addiction is similar to the people that suffer from depression.

What actually happens?

The major problems are excitatory hormones and neurotransmitters. During the ''high'', their brains fire with enormous amounts of dopamine and serotonin, giving them a unique and unforgettable experience of excessive joy, happiness, satisfaction, and overall superiority in all spheres of life. That lasts for a few days, usually. But then the neurons become empty and unable to secrete those hormones (that they regularly secrete in much lower amounts), and the person experiences severe dullness and then depression, which is deeper and deeper after every new high and can last from days to months, and even years.

That's why people with bipolar disorder often turn to drugs as a substitute in a desperate attempt to get away from depression. Interestingly enough, some research has shown that when people with a genetic potential to develop bipolar disorder use drugs ''for fun'', it often triggers the disorder within them. Often, people can misdiagnose it as a drug-induced psychosis at first, and that's why it's important to take the objective mental state of the person when they come to a treatment center with seemingly only an addiction problem.

A person might not even start a treatment

When we characterize a depressive person as only an addict, they might lose faith in our ability to see what they truly need and might even refuse an addiction recovery. Even if they do agree to come to the rehab, not seeing them with both illnesses will only lead to ineffective treatment. They might either leave it as soon as they realize it or go through with it and then relapse as if nothing happened. Both scenarios are pretty terrible.

On the other hand, if we start treating both disorders equally, there's a better chance for both of them to be resolved. Whether it is an underlying cause or comorbidity - paying attention to every side of it will maximize the chance of successful recovery.

Addressing mental health is important for addiction recovery

Mental health goes hand in hand with addiction recovery. These two ''walk'' together on very thin ice. If one of them falls, the other will follow. Addiction cannot stay alive and eat up a person on its own. Having one problem and a million solutions is way easier, but addressing mental health is important for addiction recovery - a good treatment cannot happen without it. So, don't close your eyes to the problem. There is no easy way out if you want to help yourself or someone you care about. Remember - one minute of good therapy can be a year of quality life in the long run. 

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