Approximately 9 million people in the U.S. have a dual diagnosis — meaning they have both a drug abuse or addiction problem and mental health issue. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, about 56 percent of those with dual disorders leave one or both illnesses untreated. Establishing whether the mental illness caused the substance abuse or vice versa is difficult with these types of Addiction Disorders because the relationship of comorbidity is high.
What Is Comorbidity?
When two illnesses or disorders are sequentially or simultaneously present within an individual, they are said to be comorbid. The interactions between the two conditions directly affect how each sickness manifests within a person. Comorbidity could imply that one disease caused the other, but this is not necessarily right all the time — even if symptoms of one illness appeared before the other one.
Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?
Drug addiction is fundamentally a mental illness because the dependence on the substance alters the brain. The abuser’s usual hierarchy of desires and needs is disturbed by their substitution with a new set of priorities related to procurement and drug use. Furthermore, the compulsive behavior of an abuser despite the consequences is similar to signature characteristics of other mental illnesses.
Theories About Dual Disorders of Addiction and Mental Health
Researchers conduct studies to understand a dual diagnosis better. The following is a summary of what experts have found to be conclusive about the comorbidity of drug abuse and mental health issues:
Psychiatric disorders can cause sufferers to self-medicate, which could lead to substance abuse with their continuous efforts to treat symptoms with drugs. For example, many patients who have schizophrenia smoke cigarettes to improve their cognition.
Certain drugs that users may abuse can bring about one or more symptoms of other mental illnesses — sometimes after years of chronic abuse. An example of this would be the elevated risks of psychosis when smoking marijuana.
Psychiatric diseases and drug use disorders are both brought about by factors which overlap, like exposure to early trauma or stress, underlying brain or cognitive deficits, or genetic dispositions and vulnerabilities.
It is clear that causation is difficult to determine with comorbidity being highly prevalent with dual diagnosis. An addiction to illicit substances may be a psychiatric disorder in itself, but more ongoing research should continue to reveal the mutual influence and correlation between mental disorders and drug use disorders.