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Which Comes First — Mental Health or Addiction?

Many people who struggle with addictions to drugs or alcohol are also diagnosed with mental health disorders — and vice versa. While mental illness and addiction are two very different diagnoses, they can impact the same person simultaneously. This is called co-occurring disorders or comorbidity. Because substance abuse and mental health have such a strong link, many find it challenging to discover which disorder came first.

For some people, addiction masks the symptoms of an underlying mental health condition. Others have disorders that grew so powerful they sparked adverse mental health symptoms.

No matter which illness impacted your life first, treatment can make a life-changing difference and help you break the bonds of these terrible diseases.

The Mental Illness and Substance Misuse Relationship

There is a clear link between mental health and substance misuse. Nearly half of those who struggle with a mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder sometime in their lives, and the opposite is true as well. However, trying to figure out the link between mental health and addiction is extremely difficult.

The high number of co-occurring addictions and mental health disorders doesn’t mean that one caused the other, even if one of them appeared first. The truth is, finding the cause of these afflictions can be hard to pinpoint.

There are three main reasons drug abuse co-occurs with certain mental health conditions:

  • Self-medicating a mental illness: Alcohol and drugs are often used to relieve the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health problem. These substances can temporarily change your mood and help you cope with difficult emotions. Sadly, substance abuse worsens mental health symptoms in the long term.
  • Increase the risk for mental disorders: The root cause for a mental health condition is a complex relationship between environment, genetics, and various other factors. Drug abuse and alcoholism in those already at risk for mental illness can nudge you in that direction.
  • Worsen mental illness symptoms: Substances such as alcohol and drugs can change the way your brain works over time. Not only can this worsen the mental health symptoms you’re already experiencing, but prolonged use can even trigger new symptoms.

How to Tell if You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder

It’s complicated to diagnose mental illness and alcoholism or drug use. The symptoms of co-occurring disorders vary from person to person, depending on the type of drug you abuse and the mental health condition you have.

However, if you’re concerned you may have a mental illness and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, here are some warning signs of a co-occurring disorder:

  • Sudden changes in your behavior or mood
  • Using substances, such as drugs or alcohol, to cope with unpleasant feeling or memories
  • Using substances to control the intensity of your moods
  • Using substances to stay focused or handle stressful situations
  • Neglecting your health and hygiene
  • Difficulty managing your work or school life
  • Issues with your finances
  • A relationship between your substance use and your state of mind
  • Someone in your family has had a mental health disorder or struggled with addiction
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when sober
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • A history of trauma or abuse
  • Treated for either addiction or mental health problems in the past

Find Comorbidity Mental Health and Addiction Treatment at Gateway

Suppose you’re ready to get treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse, and you also have a mental illness. In that case, you need a treatment center with specialized knowledge to treat co-occurring disorders. At Gateway, we provide dual-diagnosis services so you can break the bond of addiction and learn to cope with your mental health symptoms.

Whether you believe the drug use came first or think your mental illness plays a primary role in your current situation, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.

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