The Correlation of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.5 million adults in the United States experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2019. It’s a well-known correlation, complicating the treatment of the mental health disorder and the SUD.

“Many individuals who develop substance use disorders are also diagnosed with mental disorders, and vice versa,” explains an information page of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Multiple national population surveys have found that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.”

Mental health conditions and SUDs are frequently co-occurring because many people with addiction are primarily misusing addictive substances to self-medicate emotional pain caused by serious mental health disorders. 

According to NIDA, “Data show high rates of comorbid substance use disorders and anxiety disorders—which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Substance use disorders also co-occur at high prevalence with mental disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Patients with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use disorders than the general population.”  

Trauma in particular is an important predictor for substance misuse. According to PTSD United, 70 percent of adults in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives, and 20 percent of those adults suffer from PTSD. Many traumatized people self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. “For many, if not most, people with addiction, trauma is perhaps the critical factor that causes the problem,” writes addiction expert Maia Szalavitz in her influential book Unbroken Brain.

The combination of bipolar disorder and substance misuse may be particularly challenging to diagnose and treat successfully. “Comorbid bipolar disorder and substance use disorder are frequently the rule rather than the exception,” wrote Suzanne Bujara on Psychiatry Advisor. “Bipolar disorder has among the highest rates of comorbidities, including anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders, eating disorders, cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, and sleep apnea. Not only are comorbid bipolar disorder and substance use disorder difficult to manage, but they also increase a patient’s likelihood for chronic infectious diseases, injury, and suicide.” 

Co-occuring mental health and substance use disorders should be addressed concurrently in a comprehensive treatment program addressing all needs of such patients. “Dual diagnosis” is a term used to describe the presence of addiction and other co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Colorado Recovery understands the importance of coordinated and integrative treatment care and provides substance use services to all clients who require them as part of a specialized dual diagnosis track. We recognize that many of our clients have employed non-prescribed substances to control the symptoms of their mental illness, and as a consequence may have exacerbated their health issues. 

The treatment process at Colorado Recovery starts with evidence-based assessment instruments that help a client understand the severity of their substance use disorder. Colorado Recovery uses the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI-4) an empirically tested tool with a high-reliability rate. We also use the Addiction Severity Index (ASI-6) which was introduced in 1980 and it is probably the most widely used instrument to assess the severity of substance use disorders. Colorado Recovery also has the ability to administer screening tools to assist in identifying gambling and internet addiction disorders.

Colorado Recovery provides the services needed to address schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses which are specific to each individual. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.