Can Drug Addiction Be Classified As A Mental Illness?

Is drug addiction a mental illness? The short answer to this question is yes but why and how it happens is an intricate subject. Good mental health can be considered as having a positive outlook on life, being in control of emotions, and having general feelings of happiness and contentment. Ill mental health is a negative frame of mind that creates problems and causes barriers to being happy. Substance abuse changes what is considered as normal behavior, priorities, and desires and interferes with a person’s ability to function normally at work or school, and have good relationships with family and friends. Because external influences like drugs can affect mental health there is a definite link between drug addiction and mental illness.

What are the Signs of a Drug or Mental Problem?

The terms ‘addiction’ and ‘mental illness’ refer to a range of disorders that affect behavior, thinking, and mood. Examples of these include anxiety disorders, depression, substance use disorders, and schizophrenia that are associated with distress and impairment of functioning. The use of any drug, including recreational drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, becomes a problem when it changes a person’s behavior (anxious, irritable, aggressive, unmotivated), the way they function (lack of money, illegal activities, not getting on with people, absences from work), and their physical appearance (losing or gaining weight, lack of physical hygiene).

Are Drug Problems Caused by Mental Illness or Vice Versa?

In some cases, mental illness may cause a person to misuse drugs in an attempt to deal with the symptoms of their condition. In other cases, drugs may trigger mental disorders, especially if a person is predisposed to a psychotic illness. Certain drugs may set off the first incidence of what could become a lifelong mental illness. Drug problems are common among people who have mental problems and it is estimated that about 50% are heroin addict.

How Drugs Affect Mental Health

Drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, heroin, ecstasy, etc. are psychoactive, which means they have the ability to affect mood by arousing certain emotions and dampening down others. These mood changes are as a result of changes in the brain that are caused by the psychoactive effects of drugs. Drugs have the ability to alter the chemicals produced in the brain and interfere with the message sent and received. The brain controls mood and drugs can have short- and long-term effects on mental health.

Short-term effects can be enjoyable but often unwanted side effects can occur that causes strange reactions. Short-term effects pass after a short period of time as the drug leaves the system. However, drugs can have a longer-lasting effect on mental health. Even if a person starts off with a clear mind, drugs can affect mental health and expose bad feelings in a person never experienced before. These unwanted feelings may stay because a person may have a pre-existing mental health problem that they are unaware of. There is also a high risk of permanently disrupting the chemical balance of the brain by taking a dose that is too high.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders is a term used for the simultaneous occurrence of substance use disorder and mental illness, either one of which can develop first. People with mental health problems may use drugs to help them cope with the symptoms of their condition such as depression and the chaos of schizophrenia. Drug misuse, on the other hand, can cause mental health problems, the most common of which are anxiety disorders, ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and depression. According to a National Survey on Drug Use, 7.9 million people in the United States are diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, 4.1 million (more than half) of which are men.

The symptoms of dual diagnosis vary widely because of the wide variety of combinations but may include the following:

–    Changes in behavior
–    Loss of control over substance use
–    Withdrawal from family and friends
–    Substance use under dangerous conditions
–    Engaging in risky behavior
–    Feelings of being unable to function without the drug
–    Developing a high tolerance
–    Withdrawal symptoms upon abstaining

Mental health symptoms also vary greatly and may include:
–    Extreme mood changes
–    Problems concentrating
–    Confused thinking
–    Avoiding family and friends
–    Avoiding social activities
–    Thoughts of suicide

Who is Affected?

Most mental health problems start during childhood and adolescence and young people between the ages of 15 – 24 are more likely to experience substance abuse and mental illness. People with mental health problems are twice as likely to have substance use disorders while people with substance use problems are 3 times more likely to developed mental illness. Rates of addiction are higher in men while women have a higher rate of anxiety and mood disorders.

Physical and mental health are linked as people with mental health issues are at higher risk of developing long-term medical conditions, and people with chronic conditions and more likely to experience mental problems such as mood disorders.

People in the lowest income group are three to four times more likely to have mental health problems than those in higher income groups and a high amount of homeless people are reported to have mental illness. For more addiction help, be sure you check out your closest rehab near you.