How To Help A Loved One With A Drug Problem And A Mental Health Disorder

7. March 2016

It’s estimated that about 48% of people who have an addiction also struggle with some form of mental illness or disorder. This includes diagnosis such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why is addiction so prevalent among those with mental health issues, and which came first? There are many answers to this question, and much depends on the individual. In some cases, drug and alcohol use can trigger the start of an existing mental illness. This sometimes happens with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, although the illness may have manifested regardless of drug use.

In other cases, the substance use itself can trigger temporary, or even permanent mental health issues. Some examples include drug-induced psychosis, depression, paranoia and anxiety.

Drug And Alcohol Use As Self-Medicating

drug addict alone

Another common cause of the relationship between mental health and addiction is that of self-medicating. People who struggle with things like PTSD, trauma, depression, anxiety and other issues struggle greatly, and often seek relief in substances to help alleviate symptoms and make life more bearable.

Unfortunately, this backfires, creating more problems than it solves, and making symptoms worse.

The Challenges Faced By Those With Co-Occurring Disorders

When you have an addiction and one or more other disorders, such as a mental illness, it is called having a co-occurring disorder. Another common term is dual-diagnosis.

Treating addiction when a person has a mental health issue is challenging. Getting the right kind of help has been difficult over the years, and people with mental health issues have suffered due to lack of appropriate care. In so many cases, people with co-occurring disorders slip through the cracks, ending up homeless or incarcerated because they have not gotten the appropriate care.

Fortunately, this is changing, as more and more of the treatment available is integrating mental health services along with addiction treatment.

The Importance Of Treating The Whole Person

For years, treatment for mental health issues and addiction was kept separate. For the person with a co-occurring disorder, this meant that neither was often properly addressed. Many rehabs would not accept clients with mental illnesses, especially if they were displaying symptoms, or needing to take psychiatric medications. And, many mental health facilities wouldn’t treat mental health patients until they were clean and sober. This created a huge gap in care for people with co-occurring disorders, especially populations with more severe mental illnesses.

Even for people with more mild or manageable symptoms, there are problems. For example, it’s very common for people struggling with addiction to have chronic depression and anxiety, or PTSD or trauma issues. Treatment centers aren’t always equipped to address these problems, focusing solely on addiction and behavior during the treatment period.

What Happens When Mental Illness Goes Unaddressed In Treatment?

Woman suffering mental breakdown

For the person suffering for depression for example, it’s important to not just treat the addiction, but the depression as well. For some people, depression may be alleviated when substance abuse stops, but this frequently isn’t the case. For people who have been using drugs or alcohol to numb emotions or cope with the depression, the early recovery period can bring even worse symptoms, making addiction treatment difficult.

Even when symptoms seem to disappear in treatment, they may return later. This is a frequent cause of relapse among recovering addicts. They may succeed at staying sober for a few weeks or months or even longer, but if they haven’t learned ways to manage their mental illness, or worked through trauma, they may return to using to cope later on.

How Can A Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center Help?

Fortunately, there are more and more treatment centers that understand the connection between mental health and addiction, and understand that the best chance of recovering from addiction is to treat mental health issues along with the addiction.

When Your Loved One Has Co-Occurring Disorders

Getting an addict to admit he or she has a problem or needs help is difficult enough, but things can get complicated when mental illness is involved. Depending on the severity of the illness, there may be a complete lack of insight into both problems. In other words, your loved one may not only be in denial about the addiction, but may also be in denial around their mental health issues, as well. When confronted by family about the problem, things can escalate and your loved one may simply refuse any kind of help.

This is frightening. People who have addiction and mental health issues are particularly vulnerable when they are actively using and unable to manage their mental health.

A good recovery center can give them the tools they need to not only overcome their addiction, but also learn about their mental illness, get the skills and tools they need to manage it, and also learn how to advocate for themselves.

How An Intervention Can Help

So what can an intervention do? Addiction affects all members of the family, and it can be frustrating and heartbreaking trying to help someone you love when they won’t accept it. It’s common for family members to have their own share of issues during a time like this: Severe stress, insomnia, depression and anxiety, troubles at work, relationship tension and more. It can also erode your relationship with the addicted person, as anger and resentment begin to take root.

When you confront your loved one about their problem and offer them help, or ask them to get help, this is an intervention. However, family interventions are frequently unsuccessful.

Getting help from a professional intervention service can be the solution. Not only does the chance of a successful intervention increase, but the entire family receives support. This can help begin the healing process. Intervention professionals have the experience and education to facilitate an intervention, keep it focused and on topic, and help the family during this stressful time.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with mental health and addiction, Intervention Services, Inc. can help your family begin the healing process and get your loved one the help they need to recover. Call 1-877-478-4621 today to get started.