If you are living with a mental illness, or you take care of people with mental disorders, May is the month when you can get involved in programs created to break down prejudice about mental health. The goal of mental health month is to raise awareness and support people to speak up about different mental disorders that disturb the quality of their lives.

Is drug addiction a mental illness?    

One of the most common disorders is drug and alcohol addiction. Addiction is a chronic, and progressive illness of the brain. Major health associations classify addiction as a special condition called “severe substance use disorder.”

In the past, public opinion was extremely conservative, and addicts were seen as weak and selfish people. They were treated the same way as criminals and killers. Thanks to the scientific research and development of neurosciences, addicts now have the support of health professionals in special rehabilitation centers.

However, society has more understanding of those suffering from depression, schizophrenia, or other obvious mental disorders.

Drugs cause permanent changes in brain

Drug abuse cause changes in brain structure. Drugs are chemicals that interfere normal function of the neurons, stimulating the excessive releasing or preventing the normal recycling process of the neurotransmitters. These changes lead to unusual behavior, sense of pleasure, and addiction. Changes are obvious on MRI, in the area of basal ganglia, brain cortex, amygdala, and brain stem. These structures control social and sexual life, motivation, feelings, making decisions, etc.

The neurotransmitter of pleasure is dopamine. Drugs may release 15 times more dopamine than physiological stimulus can do. High level of dopamine helps the brain learn, repeat the rewarding activity, and make a connection between a sense of pleasure and drug intake. The worse effect a drug can have on your brain is the destruction of brain cells.

Among the teenage population, brain structure is still developing, so the damage is more serious and longer lasting than in adults. Addicts prioritize drug consumption above everything else. Healthcare professionals claim that “severe substance use disorder” is present beyond detoxification and withdrawal, which is caused by permanent changes in the brain structure.

What comes first: drug abuse or mental health disorder?

Sometimes, it’s difficult to realize whether addiction came first or mental health disorder.

People struggling with drug addiction have at least one other mental disorder. Those with mood disorder and anxiety are more likely to have a severe substance use disorder. There is a strong link between substance use disorder and mental illness, and they have many of the same risks.

Depression is a mental illness of the modern century. Individuals who suffer from depression may start to abuse alcohol or drugs to ignore the present situation. In the beginning, they feel relief by using a small amount of drug, but sooner or later the abuse will lead to addiction and loss of self-control.

Mental illness and drug abuse

Drug abuse is a mental illness in itself, but drugs can trigger conditions such as depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, self-denial, etc.

Recognizing the first symptoms of addiction is easier said than done. Addicts neglect drug abuse and refuse help from their family and friends, and the first signs of drug addiction make them “marked” in society. The public has more sympathy for those suffering from “real mental illnesses,” and usually has no empathy for addicts. Sometimes people expect addicts to stop with drug abuse without realizing the severity of their physical and psychological struggle.

Addiction risk factors

Beside mental predisposition, several risk factors determine the likelihood of developing an addiction. Overlapping factors of severe substance use disorder and mental illness are genetics, family violence, growing up with parents who use drugs, and societal environment.

Genes can determine how a person responds to a drug – whether or not using the drug makes them feel good. Some people have a gene for an increased risk of mental illness if they had experience with drugs in childhood. Social factors followed by stress may cause genetic mutations that contribute to the development of substance use disorder or mental disorder.

No matter what came first, it is necessary to determine real causes and provide appropriate treatment for patients. It is possible to learn them how to live with addiction and/or mental health disorder by giving them support through recovery treatments. Feel free to contact us, and find out more about our treatment options.