Is substance abuse a mental illness? The debate continues as to what causes substance abuse, how it affects the mental health of individuals, and whether addiction causes depression and anxiety or is it vice versa.
In most cases, it is observed that challenging mental health situations urge people to turn to substance abuse. In other cases, stressful socio-economic crises, unemployment, strained relationships or stressful family environments become the cause of substance use disorder. For instance, teenage depression is considered the most prevalent cause of drug addiction.
However, there are several effects of substance abuse on mental health. The drug or alcohol intake causes mild to severe psychological distress. It is observed that people who report substance abuse are also likely to experience mood disorders and anxiety. To better understand, let us explore substance use disorder and how it affects a person’s mental condition.
What is Substance Abuse?
As per DSM 5 criteria, substance abuse is characterized when ten different classes of drugs are abused such as; caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, sedatives, opioids, hypnotics, sedatives, anxiolytics, cocaine, stimulants, amphetamine, tobacco, or other specified substances. The person abusing substances craves the rewarding effect such as the feelings of euphoria or pleasure that is termed as “experiencing high”.
Criteria for Substance Abuse
Repeated substance use among teens or adults results in a wide array of associated problems. Let us consider how it affects the overall functioning, health and lifestyle of the individual:
- Excessive use of drugs or increased doses
- Inability to cut down on drug usage
- Caught up in scoring drugs, using or intoxicating
- Uncontrollable urge or craving
- Inability to cope with work, home or social life
- Continuing drug abuse despite strained relationships
- Giving up on routine or recreational activities
- Continued usage despite getting in danger
- Continued usage despite physical & psychological warnings
- Increased dosage to achieve expected high
- Increased withdrawal symptoms and excessive use
Overall, substance abuse disrupts the biological and psychological functioning of the person. They get caught up in the drug abuse cycle and develop mental problems.
The developed substance-induced mental disorders are as follows:
- Psychotic disorders
- Bipolar or related disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Sleep disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Induced delirium
- Neurocognitive disorders
In severe cases of substance abuse on mental health, counseling from an expert is recommended.
The prolonged usage of drugs causes serious mental problems and challenges the overall well-being of the individual.
Nowadays, drug usage is highly common in teens. Schools report many incidents where students get high to either excel academically, fight depression, or fit within their peer circle. Not understanding the gravity of the situation, continued usage of drugs poses harm and, in severe cases, becomes life-threatening. For instance, teens with excessive cannabis use report psychosis.
Effects of Substance Abuse on Mental Health
Substance abuse interferes with a person’s social, occupational, physical or mental health. It is observed that mental health problems and substance abuse co-occur. For instance, individuals with substance abuse disorder are at higher risk for developing a depressive disorder, PTSD, eating disorders or schizophrenia.
A person under the effects of intoxication may:
- Experience behavioral or personality changes
- Experience lack of motivation
- Remain agitated or irritable
- Usually develop tremors, shakiness, or slurred speech
- Display lack of sense for personal hygiene
- Inability to keep on a daily routine
- Always in financial need
- Inability to follow instructions
- Usually prefers isolating themselves
These signs indicate how a person with substance abuse conducts themselves. However, it is also important to consider the biological and physical implications of drug abuse.
Drug abuse impacts the brain on various levels. The person under the effects of drugs experiences changes in their emotional state, thinking patterns, or overall disrupted behaviors. For instance, alcohol is considered an antidepressant that impacts individuals’ feelings, thoughts and actions, leading to serious mental problems. The person may experience depressive mood, develop anxiousness or, in severe cases, experience physical twitches, seizures and stroke.
Generally, the use of opioids, stimulants and sedatives impacts the neurotransmitter activity in the brain. It alters the activity of the nerve cells, which as a result, interferes with the information processing units. As the chemicals enter the brain, it makes people lose control of their impulses and crave drugs.
Chronic substance abuse affects the overall physical activity of the individual. The person may develop:
- Harms person’s organs; throat, liver, lungs, brain, nervous system
- Heart rate changes or blood pressure
- Causes cancer or mental health problems
- Causes infectious diseases
- Changes bodily coordination
- Acts as pain relief
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Increased temperature
- Makes changes in physical appearance
- Causes baldness in severe cases
- Extreme mood swings
- Increased risk-taking behavior
- Higher risk for suicide or death
Altogether, these physical implications interfere with the individual’s overall mental health. Further, these conditions suggest mood disorders, anxiety, or major depressive episodes.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance abuse mental health treatment encompasses psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, biological and socio-cultural therapies. Today, most substance abuse treatments are applied to in-patient or out-patients. Substance abuse treatment is complex as many people walk out, and others either recover or relapse.
Initially, psychodynamic therapists enable clients to bring their underlying conflicts and needs to surface that initially convinced them to take refuge in drugs. Therapists help clients to determine their substance-related styles. It is important to identify unconscious processes that make a person adopt certain habits.
The most widely used form of behavioral therapy for substance abuse and mental health disorder is aversion therapy. This therapy is used for alcoholism; such as drinking may be paired with vomiting or nausea. This helps produce a negative response to alcoholism itself. In other instances, the clients are expected to imagine repulsive, upsetting or frightening scenes when drinking to create an aversion to alcohol.
Cognitive behaviorists contribute to substance abuse treatment by enabling clients to identify their cognitive patterns and change the behaviors that contribute to the patterns of substance abuse. In addition, the practitioners ensure that the clients develop coping skills to actively apply those skills in times of temptation, stress, or substance craving.
Biological treatment is employed to help clients withdraw from the substances, keep away from them or to refrain from their use. For some individuals, detoxification is effective, while for others, antagonist drugs are suggested to change or block the effects of addictive drugs.
Some therapists insist on the importance of socio-cultural approaches to substance abuse therapy. They are of the view that cultural standards of any society negatively impact the way an individual behaves or turns to addiction.
As in the US, alcohol is widely available and even abused for recreational purposes. In some cultures, people use drugs to achieve relief from stress. Here, the clinicians intervene with a person’s societal, religious and personal beliefs to carve out a treatment plan most suitable for the individual.
Substance abuse mental health treatment helps alleviate the signs and symptoms of mental disorders associated with drug abuse. The program aims to provide timely intervention and rehabilitation to those battling addiction. It is therefore suggested to seek help from a mental health professional or expert substance abuse psychologist.
If you are looking for an experienced psychologist in Dubai, then Camali mental health clinic is at your service.
Mr. Gabriel Rafi
- Graduated in neuropsychology and cognitive psychology from University Paris Descartes, France.