6 Risk Factors For Those With Addiction and Mental Illness

Mental Illness | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the nation’s leading organization on addiction research, mental health, and wellness. Over the last 10 years, there has been significant research on what’s known as co-occurring disorders. This is condition that many men and women in America have, which is, they have both an addiction as well as a psychological illness, such as depression or anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), it’s  common for those with psychological illness to also have a psychological illness. In fact, about 60% of those who have an addiction also have a mental illness of some kind. Mental illnesses that can co-exist with substance use are Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Addiction and Mental Illness Trends Between Men and Women

However, often, it’s hard to tell whether which came first, the addiction or the mental illness. Researchers are beginning to see a trend in the differences between men and women. For example, research shows that men typically develop the addiction first and then a mental illness as a result; while women tend to develop the mental illness first, such as depression or anxiety which then leads to addiction.

It’s clear that when someone is affected by both, each can make the other worse. For instance, depression in someone can lead to more substance use and more substance use can exacerbate the depression. If this person were to get treatment, it would be important that both the depression and the addiction be treated separately. Sadly, many individuals who are diagnosed with an addiction do not get assessed and therefore do not get treated for their mental illness. And untreated psychological illness is often a major contributor to chronic relapse.

Furthermore, according to SAMHSA, there are risk factors that has an effect on the health and well being of those who experience an addiction and/or a mental illness. These are:

  • Poverty, social isolation, and trauma – When men and women experience significant stress in life, such as trauma, poverty, and/or social marginalization, they are at risk for developing addiction and mental illness. Those who are in these situations tend to have higher levels of stress as well as a reduced ability to access the mental health services they need.
  • Tobacco – Every year smoking kills about 200,000 people who have a mental illness. It seems that there is a greater relationship to smoking among those who experience mental health concerns. In fact, 75% of those with behavioral health problems smoke. This is compared to only 23% of the general population.
  • Obesity – This physical condition is often also found among those who have a mental illness. In fact, many of those who experience depression also experience obesity. And sadly, these two health conditions affect the other. One study found that of those with obesity and binge eating patterns, 51% also had a history of depression.
  • Medication side effects – Those experiencing co-occurring disorders and who are required to take medication for those conditions can be at risk for other health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, because of their medication. For instance, 15 to 72 percent of those taking medication for depression, anxiety, and psychosis gain significant weight, which can put their health at risk. Although this situation doesn’t place them at risk for developing an addiction, it does contribute to one’s ability to maintain their overall sense of good health.
  • The combined use of alcohol and drugs – When someone has a history of heavy binge drinking and/or heavy use of drugs, their health is significantly at risk. This includes damage to the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, various cancers, high blood pressure, and psychological disorders.
  • Lack of access to quality healthcare – Research shows that those with co-occurring disorders tend to have a reduced ability to access the appropriate healthcare. There remains a high portion of those who experience an addiction and/or a mental illness who do not receive treatment and therefore do not get the support they need to heal.

The above list includes risk factors that those with co-occurring disorders tend to experience.  If you are struggling with a co-occurring disorder and you recognize one of the above risk factors in your life, contact a mental health professional and/or a doctor who can help.


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