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Comorbidity is when two conditions, such as a specific mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, occur in the same person. In other words, many people who are experiencing addiction are often also dealing with preexisting mental health conditions. The link between substance abuse and mental health is complex. When comorbidity exists, it doesn’t mean one disorder caused the other, even if one condition shows up first.   

Why might substance abuse and mental health issues exist together?

  • Common risk factors such as genetics can contribute to substance abuse and mental health issues. Exposure to stress and trauma can alter an individual’s gene expression and trigger genetic predispositions to mental or substance abuse disorders that have been passed down through generations.
  • People with mental health disorders can turn to substances for relief. Around one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use disorder. People with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress order, etc. may use substances as a crutch to distract themselves from their problems. While people who are living with mental health conditions might receive temporary relief from self-medicating, substance abuse can worsen an individual’s symptoms and result in a complete rewiring of the brain and how it functions. As a result, many people who abuse substances become addicted and find it difficult to stop.
  • Substance use can lead to the development of mental disorders. Of the 20.3 million adults with substance use disorders, 37.9% also had mental illnesses. Substance use can alter one’s brain function and structure, increasing the likelihood developing a mental disorder.

What are barriers to diagnosing and treating both conditions?

Symptoms of substance abuse and mental health often overlap, making it difficult for doctors to provide accurate diagnoses. Moreover, patients who have substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder often have symptoms that are harder to treat compared to those who have only one of the two conditions.

How are co-occurring  substance use and mental disorders treated?

Co-occurring substance use and mental disorders should usually be treated together rather than separately. Because it can be so easy to misdiagnose patients with comorbid mental disorders, health care providers must be more conscious and use thorough assessment tools that are specific to a patient’s symptoms and disorders.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of addiction or mental health issues, Oceans is here to help. Our medical staff is here to provide individualized treatment plans for substance use disorder and associated mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

For more information, find an Oceans location near you or fill out this confidential form to have a representative call you.

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