Understanding Mental Health & Addiction

By: Dale Vernor, Guest Blogger for LEAD, Inc.

Mental health and addiction are so intertwined that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Dual diagnosis treatment facilities have long realized that co-occurring disorders are much more common than first thought. People who are dealing with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and even body dysmorphia may be inclined to turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their mental health symptoms.

The National Bureau of Economic Research said that 4 in 10 people who deal with some form of mental illness are vulnerable to alcohol abuse. More than 4 in 10 of them will likely abuse cocaine, and the same number will smoke cigarettes. In terms of prevalence (which is not necessarily addiction), 8 in 10 will likely consume cocaine, 7 in 10 will consume alcohol, and 7 in 10 will smoke cigarettes. It is important to recognize signs of mental health issues early to lower chances of youth substance abuse.

Substance abusers and people who suffer from mental health problems are highly stigmatized in our society. But the numbers show that mental health issues are more common than one may think. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) claims that 1 in 5 youth will suffer from a severe mental health disorder and barely half will get the help they need to live a happy, productive life. In order to prevent our youth from a dual diagnosis, it is important to understand what it is and how to tell if your child may be at risk.  

What is Dual Diagnosis?

There’s actually a term that describes the condition of substance abuse and mental illness occurring at the same time. This is called a dual diagnosis or comorbidity.

With a dual diagnosis, the person may suffer from a mental health problem that leads to substance abuse, or the opposite where the substance abuse causes mental health issues to develop. For example, a person who is suffering from depression may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with symptoms. A person with an alcohol problem may develop depression or an anxiety disorder due to prolonged abuse.

What the experts agree on is that substance abuse will only worsen the mental condition instead of helping the patient.

Some of the more common emotional health problems that teens struggle with include anxiety, depression, and certain types of personality disorders. As adults and leaders, it is important to let our youth know that it is okay to talk about these problems. Many teens may think they are different and alone in their struggles which can lead to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

For youth who are struggling with a co-occurring disorder, help can be found in dual diagnosis rehabs. These facilities are capable of diagnosis patients for mental health problems and helping them understand how their mental health ties into substance abuse. And on the other hand they are able to teach our teens the risks of developing a mental illness because of their substance abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment is becoming more popular and is a great solution for those struggling with mental health issues and addiction.

What are the Red Flags of a Substance Abuse Problem?

Now that you have a better understanding of the problem, it is important to learn the red flags to look out for. If your teen is suffering from an addiction, it’s easy to overlook some of the changes in the behavior and write it off as kids being kids.

Fortunately, there are some warning signs to look out for that tells you that something is wrong:

  1. Drastic behavioral changes – If your loved one is on medication for a mental health problem, study their patterns. Their attitude and mindset will likely have changes because of the drug but addiction is a whole different monster. Their whole personality changes. They are more prone to risky behaviors or rebellion. They are preoccupied with the medication or the bottle and become angry when they fail to get their fix. They tend to miss out on family activities, school, or work.
  2. Lack of hygiene – Often times in teen addiction cases, many will ignore their hygiene. They will stay in their room for days on end and stop taking baths or even brushing their teeth. They will likely have messy and smelly hair and they stop cutting their nails. This is because as the addiction gets stronger, hygiene and other daily routines become less of a priority.
  3. Skin and oral problems – Individuals who are addicted to meth, for instance, will likely have wounds on their skin. People addicted to cocaine will have bad oral hygiene as teeth-grinding is one of the physical manifestations of addiction. Those who are injecting drugs like heroin will develop track marks on their arms.
  4. Financial difficulties – Addicted individuals will use all their resources to purchase their substance of choice. This will result in financial difficulties. If your child seems to be asking for more money than usual and more frequently, they could be developing an addiction.  

Treatment for Mental Health and Addiction

It’s important to understand that the sooner you seek treatment for your child, the better the chances are that he or she can make a full, healthy recovery. There is no reason to be ashamed of a mental health condition or an addiction. Your teen can get help and learn how to cope with their mental health problems in a healthy manner.

Your child’s dual diagnosis treatment will depend on their unique needs and can be a highly effective way to get rid of addiction as well as treating their emotional or mental wellness problems at the same time. Talking to your loved one about this may not be easy but there are ways to go about it that can help him or her understand the seriousness of the situation. When having this conversation it is important to be calm, and show them that you are not mad and only care for their well-being. If you think your child is struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, help is available and change is possible.

The Importance of Education

In response to the rising rates of dual diagnosis, Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do (LEAD), Inc. provides curriculum and training to schools, summer camps, and youth-serving organizations to promote mental health education and adolescent wellbeing. LEAD is also “revolutionizing health education” by introducing topics like mental illness, substance use, and addiction into existing – and often outdated – health education courses in high schools.

LEAD’s TryHealth curriculum supplement is currently being piloted at four high schools in two states and has already shown promising results including students being 2x more likely to report suicidal ideation in a peer after taking the course. By providing health education to students, LEAD empowers youth and decreases substance use and addiction in communities from the inside-out! For more information, visit www.leadnow.org or contact LEAD’s Executive Director at kyrah@LEADnow.org.

dale v (1)About the Author:

Dale is a writer and researcher in the fields of mental health and substance abuse. Dale obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and has found a job writing, which is his true passion. Dale likes to write about mental health and substance abuse to help lift the negative stigma associated with both. Dale is a fond believer in talking about these issues to raise awareness of these issues and to help people realize they are not alone in their problems. When not working you can look for Dale at your local basketball court.


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