Coping With Tough Times: Mental Health and Substance Misuse

Mental health and substance misuse are deeply intertwined issues that significantly impact many people’s lives. While these challenges can arise at any time, the winter months, particularly after the festive season, often bring additional stress and emotional strain. For many, the transition back to everyday routines, coupled with shorter, darker days, can exacerbate feelings of sadness or anxiety.

This period can also see an increase in substance use as people seek ways to cope with these heightened emotions – January 2021 witnessed the rate of drug overdose deaths surpassing homicides by a staggering 306.7%.[1] In addition, there is a noticeable uptick in feelings of depression and anxiety during the winter months, with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affecting approximately 5% of the adult population.[2]

However, despite these challenges, it’s important to remember that with the right coping strategies and support, recovery from substance misuse and improvement in mental well-being are entirely possible.


Statistics on Addiction and Mental Health

Approximately 7.7 million Americans with severe mental disorders are affected by substance misuse, and it often co-occurs with mental health issues. Out of the 20.3 million people with SUD, 37.9% had mental health conditions, and 18.2% of those who presented with mental health conditions also had co-occurring SUD.[3] Further statistics highlighted that:

  • 13.5% of young adults aged 18 to 25 had both a substance use disorder and a mental illness in the past year.
  • Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than other age groups​​.[4]

However, there are also positive findings; namely, 72.2% of adults who ever had a substance use problem considered themselves to be in recovery, as did 66.5% of adults who ever had a mental health issue. Although a co-occurring mental health issue and addiction can complicate treatment, millions of Americans are living happy and fulfilled lives despite once having this diagnosis.


What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to the simultaneous occurrence of substance misuse and mental health disorders, a combination that is more common than many might realize. This co-occurrence can create a complex web of challenges, as each condition can exacerbate the other, making both harder to treat. However, despite how common it is, dual diagnosis often goes unrecognized or misdiagnosed, and this oversight can stem from overlapping symptoms or because one condition masks the other.

Often, people may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD as we covered in our recent blog.[5] Conversely, chronic substance misuse can induce or exacerbate mental health disorders, creating a vicious cycle that’s challenging to break. While self-medication can provide temporary relief, it often leads to dependency and worsens mental health conditions in the long run.

The Causative and Symptomatic Relationship with Addiction

The relationship between mental health disorders and substance misuse often results in specific patterns of dependency that correspond to certain mental health conditions. For example, people suffering from anxiety disorders might find temporary solace in benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety relief; however, they can lead to dependency if not managed carefully.[6] Similarly, people struggling with depression might turn to alcohol or opioids as a means of escape, given their initial soothing effects.

This causative and symptomatic relationship forms a cycle where mental health issues can trigger substance misuse and vice versa. A person might start using alcohol or drugs to mitigate their symptoms; however, as substance misuse progresses, it can further deepen depressive symptoms, often worsening their overall mental health. This creates a feedback loop where each condition feeds into and exacerbates the other.

Substance misuse can also directly lead to or intensify mental health disorders. Chronic alcohol or drug use can alter brain chemistry and structure, potentially triggering or worsening conditions like depression, anxiety, or even psychosis.[7] For example, stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can heighten anxiety or lead to panic attacks. Likewise, prolonged opioid use can result in increased feelings of depression or anxiety due to changes in the brain’s reward and stress systems.[8]

One of the significant challenges faced by people with dual diagnosis is being shuttled back and forth between mental health and addiction services. This ping-pong effect often occurs when treatment programs are siloed, focusing either on mental health or substance misuse but not adequately addressing both simultaneously. As a result, people may find themselves caught in a frustrating cycle where their mental health needs are treated separately from any addiction issues, leading to incomplete or ineffective treatment.

This disjointed approach can be disheartening and confusing, often exacerbating both conditions. It highlights the necessity for integrated treatment models that address both mental health and substance misuse in a cohesive, comprehensive manner, and centers that offer an integrated approach that caters to the complex needs of people battling both mental health disorders and substance misuse generally have much higher success rates.


Tips for Managing Mental Health and Substance Use

Dealing with the complexities of co-occurring mental health disorders and substance misuse can be daunting, but it is entirely possible. When seeking to manage co-occurring conditions, the following should be considered:

  • Seek Integrated Treatment: Look for treatment programs which provide comprehensive care for both mental health and substance misuse. Integrated treatment plans address the root causes of dual diagnosis, enhancing the effectiveness of recovery.
  • Find a Therapist: There are multiple organizations and individual practitioners who can deliver the help you deserve. If you’re in the USA then have an extensive list. If you’re UK-based, have a directory of therapists.
  • Develop Healthy Coping Strategies: Introduce healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies. These activities are accessible for most and can provide natural ways to manage stress and improve mental well-being, and have been shown to improve outcomes in both mental health and addiction.[9][10]
  • Stay Connected with Support Systems: Engage with support groups and communities (both in person and online) that understand the complexities of dual diagnosis. Sharing experiences and strategies with others facing similar challenges can be incredibly supportive. There are a multitude of sober communities on social media and the rise of Dry January and Sober October has resulted in thousands of people exploring the benefits of sobriety.
  • Understand Triggers: Identifying and understanding the triggers for both mental health issues and substance misuse can help with managing cravings and preventing relapse.
  • Continuous Self-Care and Monitoring: Regular self-care, including adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and stress management, plays an important role in maintaining mental health and general well-being.
  • Embrace the 12-Step Program: While the 12-step program focuses on addiction recovery, it doesn’t preclude addressing mental health issues, and its principles can be a valuable part of a comprehensive treatment plan. One study found that 12-step meeting attendance was associated with a higher proportion of abstinence from drugs and alcohol, less severe distress and psychiatric symptoms, and a higher likelihood of being employed at one-year follow-up.[11]
  • Regular Mental Health Checkups: Just like medical checkups, regular mental health assessments are important for people with dual diagnoses. They help with adjusting treatment plans as needed and also offer an informed, educated, and empathetic place to be heard.
  • Educate Yourself and Others: Understanding the nature of dual diagnosis can empower people to seek appropriate help and educate others, helping to reduce stigma and promote empathy for those struggling with co-occurring conditions.


Get Help for Dual Diagnosis Today

At Crossroads Antigua, we understand the complexities of dual diagnoses and are dedicated to providing a compassionate, integrated approach to treatment.

Our programs are tailored to address both mental health disorders and substance misuse, with a focus on holistic recovery. We offer various therapies designed to empower and guide you towards a healthier, more fulfilling life and provide the tools and resources necessary for sustainable recovery.

Whether you are struggling with a dual diagnosis, seeking support for a loved one, or simply looking for guidance through difficult times, we’re here to help. We believe every individual has the potential to overcome the challenges of mental health and substance misuse. Contact us today at 1 (888) 452-0091.

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