Substance use is often a symptom of many types of mental health disorders. When substance use becomes out of control, it becomes a mental health disorder of its own. This is known as substance use disorder (SUD).
SUD is defined as a mental health disorder that affects a person’s behavior and brain functioning. This prevents someone from being able to control their use of substances. Substances can be drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol, and prescription medications. In severe cases, this leads to addiction. However, addiction doesn’t always come from substance use. Addiction can be biological, psychological, or behavioral as well.
There is a harmful stigma that when people develop SUD, they are somehow completely at fault for it. This prevents many people from seeking help, as they are ashamed that they are struggling with substance use in the first place. However, it’s important to remember that substance use is not the result of a moral failing or fault of character. Mental health care facilities like Acera Health will never judge someone for needing help. Everyone deserves quality and compassionate treatment, including those with SUD.
Why Substance Use Disorder Co-Occurs With Mental Health Disorders
Many factors connect substance use disorder with co-occurring mental health disorders. Co-occurring disorders means when two or more mental health disorders affect someone at the same time. It is sometimes known as a dual diagnosis, and it can sometimes be tricky to treat. When you have a dual diagnosis, you can’t just treat one disorder over the other. Both disorders must be treated at the same time to achieve recovery.
SUD is a very common part of many co-occurring mental health disorders because they often share origins. These origins can be broken down into three major factors that affect a person’s mental well-being:
Genetics: Like some mental health disorders, SUD can be genetic. When someone engages in substance use, it changes the chemistry of their brain. Some faulty genes may be at play that can cause someone to develop a mental health disorder or SUD. In some cases, a person may be born with a different brain structure compared to the average person. These factors can influence if someone is more likely to become addicted or abuse a substance.
Self-medication: When someone experiences a traumatic event or struggles with a difficult mental health disorder, they may be tempted to self-medicate. This means numbing or masking your pain by using substances without first consulting a doctor. Some disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are especially susceptible to substance abuse. Many people will abuse substances so they don’t have to acknowledge that they need mental health help. However, a substance can only mask the pain for so long, and it becomes less effective as the body becomes used to it. Eventually, this crosses over into SUD, when a person believes they need to abuse a particular substance to function with their mental health disorder.
Changes in the brain: The brain is a very delicate organ that controls how our body functions. One small change can be enough to completely throw the body out of alignment or cause personality changes. This is often the result of a traumatic brain injury, which can damage sections of the brain. Sometimes a disease or illness, like severe meningitis, can cause brain damage. When our brain changes, it can leave someone more susceptible to substance abuse. This can also lead to the development of a mental health disorder.
Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
SUD is a common symptom of many mental health disorders, but it’s also a disorder on its own. When people abuse substances, it changes how their brain works and functions. This can cause physical, mental, and social symptoms that can become more severe over time. Sometimes the most severe outcome of substance use disorder is death.
The most common symptoms of SUD can be broken down into four distinct categories:
Behavior: A person may struggle with impulse control and severe mood swings. Someone engaging in substance use is also more likely to engage in risky behaviors, even when they know it’s dangerous and harmful.
Social: Substance use can break down relationships and cause problems at work, school, and home. Some substances are illegal and can get someone in trouble with the law if caught possessing them.
Biological: A person may develop intense cravings or urges to use the substance of their choice. They may struggle with symptoms of withdrawal if they can’t regularly consume these substances. Withdraw can be painful, but also dangerous if severe enough. A person may become tolerant of a substance, causing them to have to use it more and more to have the same effect.
Mental: Sometimes, a person strongly believes that they need to abuse substances to function. This can result in psychological addiction.
How to Find Help
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, call for help right away. Contact your local mental health care facility. Places like Acera Health offer residential treatment services that can help someone recover from their substance use in a safe environment.
There are organizations dedicated to helping those quit their substance abuse. A good example is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They contain resources such as the latest news in addiction research, a database of treatment providers, and links to helpful programs.
Abusing substances can sometimes be the start, and a symptom, of a mental health disorder. This is known as substance abuse disorder (SUD). This is because substances can change the chemistry of someone’s brain, altering how it can function. Many people turn to abusing substances to cope with a mental health disorder. This can turn into an addiction, which can be tricky to recover from. However, there is hope for recovery. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we offer an extensive residential treatment program that can help people recover from SUD. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, reach out today and call (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.