You may already be familiar with the term  co-occurring disorders. If not, this term describes a person who has both a drug addiction and mental illness. But what exactly is the connection between drug addiction and mental illness?

Chicken or Egg: Does It Matter?

First and foremost, regardless of the origin of dual diagnoses, the most important therapeutic point is that a person receives simultaneous treatment for the drug addiction and mental illness. Without this approach, it is extremely difficult for someone with co-occurring disorders to reach a state of recovery and wellness.  The chicken and the egg? That is a very complicated theme, and there are two points to consider:

  • Mental health issues lead to addictions as a way to manage painful or difficult symptoms
  • Drug addiction leads to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues related to increasing isolation and damage to relationships as the addiction becomes the focus of each day

Both of these are valid views, and have multiple research studies to support them. In addition, brain research shows that some drugs of addiction can lead to change in the brain’s neurotransmitters. This can cause symptoms of mental illness.

For both drug addiction and mental illness, some overlapping issues may be present. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these include common genetic factors, overlapping environmental triggers, involvement of similar regions of the brain (such as the reward center of the brain), and developmental issues during adolescence.

Common Ground on Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

There are many ways to control stress, trauma and pain. The relief of distressful symptoms and situations can range from the healthy and benign (such as scrubbing windows or going for a walk), to increasingly problematic activities (using food, drugs, sex, shopping or alcohol to feel better). These same activities can be used to cope with anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD and schizophrenia. Getting help for a co-occurring disorder, regardless of whether the drug addiction or the mental illness came first, is the most important priority.

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