Drinking and substance use or substance abuse can be prevalent in many settings. It is something we have all seen before. For many people, the use of one or the other (or both) may be casual, and they are keenly aware of their limits and never cross the line. However, for others, the boundaries become fuzzy. Drugs or alcohol or even both start to become ingrained in their day to day lives and, in many cases, begin to interfere with daily life. This interference in life is viewed as the only way to cope with day to day life, and the downward spiral continues.
Drinking or substance abuse often starts as recreational or casual. Over time, an occasional social drinker starts to binge drink regularly, or someone who uses prescription pain medication occasionally for pain control begins to take more than the prescribed dosage or progresses to harder drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. If this sounds familiar to you (or this progression into addiction has occurred for someone you love), it may be time to reassess your dependency and your use. It is not easy to recognize whether you or someone you know is experiencing problems with substance abuse. It is essential to learn how to recognize the signs of addiction, as this can help you determine if it is time to reach out for support. It is also valuable to assess how substance abuse can have a detrimental impact on your mental health. Below we discuss substance abuse and how it can impact mental health as well as some signs it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with substances.
There is a well-known relationship between mental health and substance abuse. For that matter, addiction is often classified as a mental illness unto itself. However, the relationship between addiction and mental health is much more complicated than many people understand. According to research provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction, and mental illness are not mutually exclusive. This means mental illness does not always trigger issues with substance abuse, although there are indeed links between drug use, addiction, and mental illness. Statistics also show that those with a mental illness are twice as likely to develop a substance abuse problem than those without an underlying mental illness.
Does Mental Illness Lead to Drug Abuse?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Some studies show a strong link between substance abuse and shifts in mental health. Similar studies also show that those undergoing periods of emotional turmoil or duress will often turn to substances, illegal or otherwise, as a form of self-medication or coping strategy. Also, those diagnosed with mental health disorders are more than twice as likely to develop substance abuse (alcohol or drugs) problems than those without a mental illness.
It is essential to note that there is no finding that mental illness definitively causes addiction, however, there are many studies that have followed how often mental illness plays a role when someone uses substances as a coping mechanism. There is also a high occurrence of co-morbidity (or dual diagnosis) between personality disorders and substance abuse involving either drugs or alcohol.
How does substance abuse affect mood disorders?
If you have already been diagnosed with a mood disorder, are you more vulnerable to eventual substance abuse? Unfortunately, the answer to this question appears to be yes. According to data provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study, participants in the study with at least one diagnosed mood disorder had increased odds of developing a substance use disorder. This study showed those odds were around ten percent higher. This study showed that an overwhelming majority of participants with a diagnosed personality disorder also had some form of substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse disorders were most commonly linked to antisocial, histrionic, and dependent personality disorders.
Will substance abuse harm mental health?
In short, yes. A glass of wine or beer with a meal on occasion is usually fine. But when those who live with mental illness decide to consume alcohol in hopes that it will help to quiet their mind or take the edge of a particularly emotionally charged day, it often has the opposite result -chemically at least. Consumption of alcohol to alleviate stress generally results in added pressure on the brain. This added stress can lead to elevated levels of depression and exasperation of already existing mental health symptoms. These heightened symptoms are only further elevated when someone with a co-occurring mental health disorder drinks to excess or binge drinks regularly.
How do you know you have an alcohol abuse problem?
Above, we mentioned that there are certain indicators that you may see in yourself (or others may see in you) or that you may see in loved ones that indicate it is time to reevaluate your relationship with substances. We also discussed how substance abuse could impact your mental health. Now for the next two points, we will examine those indicators you need to watch out for.
When you casually have a few drinks with friends, you likely are not looking for signs of alcoholism. In reality, consumption of alcohol is so frequent that it can be hard to determine when social drinking becomes an addiction. It is even harder to take a look inside and decide whether we have personally crossed the line. There are many ways to enjoy alcohol on occasion and have what would be considered a “healthy” relationship with alcohol. You should grow concerned when drinking starts to interfere with your day to day life. Below is a list of things to consider. If you are experiencing these or know someone who is, then drinking may have become a problem.
- Are you drinking to forget something or someone in your life-past or present?
- When you are feeling worried or upset, do you seek out alcohol as opposed to other coping mechanisms?
- Are you unable to sleep or wake up without taking a drink?
- Do you have a hard time managing stressors without alcohol?
- Do you engage in regular binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks on a single occasion)?
- Do you struggle to maintain relationships, activities, or involvement in hobbies because of alcohol?
- Do you set limits regarding drinking and them exceed those limits?
- Have you found yourself in a dangerous situation or experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm as a result of drinking?
Many people turn to alcohol as a tool or strategy to manage emotions or moods. In the beginning, this may seem like an excellent way to cope, but over time drinking can have a negative impact on all areas of your life, including your relationships, job, financial stability, physical health, and mental health (as discussed above). Since the human body is wired to seek pleasure and relief from negative stimuli or traumatic emotions, you may find it harder and harder to cut down on drinking on your own if it proves to be a successful (albeit unhealthy) coping technique.
What about drug abuse?
Throughout the United States (and globally), people use prescription and recreational drugs for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are legal, and some fall on the opposite side of the law. While the list of reasons for drug use is long, a short list of examples includes curiosity, relaxation, social circumstances, or because a family member or loved one also uses. As with alcohol abuse, it is when drug use interferes with your daily life that you likely have a problem and should consider seeking support. If your (or a loved ones) use of drugs, whether legally prescribed or otherwise, is starting to get in the way of healthy lifestyle choices, sleep, relationships, employment, or fulfilling other obligations and responsibilities, then the original reason for the use has likely morphed into addiction. Another sign of problematic usage us when your use of or (inability to use) a drug has a significant negative impact on your mood.
Similar to the signs of problematic alcohol use or alcohol abuse above, there are indicators that you should be aware of when it comes to drug use and misuse as well. These include the following:
- Do you use drugs (of any kind) to forget or block out something or someone from your life?
- Do you find yourself longing for the drug or feeling the urge to use (even if the symptom for which the medication was prescribed is no longer present)?
- Are you experiencing symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety, nausea, or muscle pain when you don’t or can’t use?
- Do you act like someone else or put on a false front to get access to the drug?
- Are you unable to manage stress when you aren’t using?
- Do your drug use habits interfere with hobbies, relationships, or activities?
- Do you set and then exceed limits regarding using?
- Have you stolen or purchased drugs illegally to keep a supply on hand?
- Have you found yourself in dangerous or illegal situations or contemplated suicide due to your drug use?
Again, as with alcohol use and abuse, many people use (and abuse) drugs to cope with situations they feel they cannot deal with any other way. For these people, drugs often provide temporary relief from unpleasant situations; however, over time, the regular use of drugs will also have a significant impact on all areas of your life and relationships.
Substance abuse can infiltrate and negatively impact your life on all levels. Long term, regular use of alcohol or drugs can not only affect your mental and physical health but your relationships and finances as well. In some of the most extreme situations, substance abuse could land you on the wrong side of the law or even take your life. Many cases of substance abuse start when someone turns to drugs or alcohol as a method for coping with emotional or physical pain, stress, or trauma. The relief they experience from using often feels so much better than the pain they are experiencing that they go back over and over again to their drink or drug of choice to feel that sense of relief.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, perhaps it is time to consider how your relationship with substances could be impacting you and what it may be taking from you. At The Hills, we tailor our addiction and substance abuse treatment plans to the person which assures you receive the individual care and treatment you need to conquer your addiction. We do not provide cookie-cutter therapy as everyone’s addictions and needs are different. If you have decided your relationship with substances should come to an end, contact us at The Hills.