Community Magazine

When Drugs and Mental Health Mix, An Analytic Approach

By Dastein

Former Senator George McGovern once said the following in regards to his daughter Terry’s death: she “…was dealt a double cruel hand: the companion demons depression and alcoholism. They were demons that warred ceaselessly against the other aspects of her being-a warm and sunny disposition.” (http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/resource/depression/) The dark connection between addiction and mental illness cannot be overlooked, as many lives have been destroyed when these two “demons” work together. I was asked to write about how addiction affects mental illness recovery. It’s a tough subject for me to write about, as I’ve personally dealt with addicition. I’ve seen first hand how devastating addiction can be for someone with mental illness. Thus, this article will attempt to examine how addiction can worsen and exacerbate mental illness.
According to a study done by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, (drugabuse.gov) people suffering with mood disorders are twice as likely to use drugs than the regular population.1 Although, these numbers are alarmingly high, that does not mean someone who is mentally ill will become a drug addict. Rather, those who are suffering from mental illness have a higher chance of abusing illicit drugs. This does not take into account the impact drug abuse has on mental illness, instead it lays the foundation of this article. To understand how addiction affects mental health recovery, we must understand the connection between drug abuse and mental health.
A therapist once told me that drug abuse can speed up and increase the intensity of mental illness. I can personally confirm this as the speed and frequency of my mixed episodes grew exponentially as my alcohol abuse exploded. When I first started drinking, I would experience one depressive episode a year. However, a few months later, I was drinking everyday and experiencing massive depressive episodes every three months. Within a year, I was having multiple episodes in a single day. I was getting progressively worse. Throw in excessive pain killer abuse and my mind literally shattered. By the time I ended up in the hospital, I was abusing pain killers and experiencing massive mixed episodes that caused me to become a threat to myself and those around me.
The fact is drug abuse can negatively change the brain, potentially leading to mental illness. “Early exposure to drugs of abuse can change the brain in ways that increase the risk for mental illness (figure), just as early symptoms of a mental disorder may increase vulnerability to drug abuse.” (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/comorbid-drug-abuse-mental-illness)
As such, drug abuse can negatively impact mental health recovery, both worsening existing symptoms or forcibly creating new ones. Because of the previous mentioned dangers, more studies are needed to fully understand how drug abuse impacts mental health. However, one thing is clear, drug abuse negatively impacts mental health recovery!
If you or someone you know is suffering with drug addition please seek help, or at least talk with someone you trust. Drug abuse and mental illness unfortunately are easily entangled, as such we must be proactive in research and recovery.
Footnotes:
1.http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/resource/depression/
2. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/comorbid-drug-abuse-mental-illness (National Institute of Drug Abuse)


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