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Drug and Alcohol Misuse and Mental Health Problems

Some people have both a drug and alcohol problem and a mental health problem. You need to treat both problems to fully recover. Mental health problems that can happen with drug or alcohol abuse include:

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

  • Schizophrenia

Either problem may come first. If you have a mental health problem, you may use drugs or alcohol to try to feel better. Or a drug problem may lead to mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or rage.

Why does this happen?

People with mental health problems may use drugs and alcohol:

  • To feel normal. You may use drugs or alcohol because it helps you feel normal and accepted. It may make you feel like you don't have a mental health problem or are not different from others.

  • To self-medicate. You may use drugs or alcohol to reduce anxiety, depression, sleep problems, tension, hallucinations (like hearing voices), and the side effects of medicines.

Using drugs or alcohol when you have a mental health problem tends to make things worse. You may have more mental health symptoms, relationship problems, think about suicide, or need to stay in a hospital or other facility for treatment.

Treating both problems

It's best to treat the mental health problem and the drug or alcohol problem at the same time. If you don't get treatment, one problem can make the other one worse. If you treat only one problem, treatment may not work as well. When you treat both problems, you have a better chance of a full recovery and less chance of returning to drugs or alcohol.

The first step often is detoxification, or detox. During detox, you use no drugs or alcohol so your body can clear itself of them. You may have withdrawal symptoms, so detox usually takes place while you are getting medical care. If your problems are severe, you may need treatment at a hospital or another facility to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

Detox is followed by therapy and sometimes medicine to relieve mental health symptoms or cravings for drugs or alcohol. You most likely will attend individual and group therapy for both problems. You also will learn about alcohol and drugs, exercise, and healthy eating.

A recovery program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous often is part of treatment and recovery. There are also other treatments available, for those who prefer a different approach. Whatever your preference is, getting help can increase your chances of successfully managing both substance use problems and other mental health concerns.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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