Woman taking pills living with behavioral health and substance abuse

The Link Between Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse

Behavioral health and substance abuse are inherently connected. The reasons why are complex and worth learning about. Let’s explore the relationship between mental health substance abuse and treatment.  


Addiction is a Behavioral Health Disorder

The first way behavioral health and substance abuse are connected is simple. Substance abuse is a behavioral health disorder. If you or someone you love is living with addiction, this likely rings true to you. Addictive behaviors go against our natural instincts. 

The desire for drugs or alcohol becomes so powerful that it climbs to the top of the list of priorities. In the most extreme examples of disordered mental health, substance use becomes more important than our most basic needs —food, water, shelter and safety. 

Have you ever chased after your drug of choice, even when you knew it would put you in danger? Do you remember a time when your son or daughter didn’t pay rent or power bills so they could use the money to get high? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mental illness as a medical condition that “impairs normal psychological functioning” and leads to “a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.”  If addiction doesn’t fit that definition, what does? 


People with Mental Health Diagnoses are More Vulnerable to Addiction

Here is another way behavioral health and substance abuse are connected. Living with untreated depression, anxiety or trauma can put a person at greater risk of addiction. 

When we have balanced mental health, substance abuse is less likely to occur. Think about it. Why do we use drugs? To change the way we feel! 

There is more than one reason, but if you ask an addicted person that question, that’s usually the first answer. Living with a mental illness that isn’t managed often feels bad. Abusing drugs or alcohol can seem like an easy way out. 

This is the most likely reason why co-occurring psychiatric and substance disorders are relatively common. It is also the reason why it is so important that anyone being treated for substance abuse gets a complete evaluation. 

Getting a proper diagnosis can make all the difference in setting you or the one you love up for successful recovery. There is no overstating this. If a co-occurring disorder is present, diagnosing and treating it is critical to staying free of drugs and alcohol. 


The Challenge of Co-Occurring Psychiatric and Substance Disorders

One of the challenges of co-occurring psychiatric and substance disorders is that a person may feel like they get some relief for a time. Living with untreated anxiety, binge drinking before social gatherings might calm you down at first. Or if you have ADHD, stimulants like cocaine may help you focus. And if you are depressed, opiates may elevate your mood for a while. This behavior is sometimes called self-medicating. 

If you do not have any effective healthy coping mechanisms, giving up the drugs can seem pretty scary. That is completely understandable. If someone you love is wrestling with addiction and another mental health issue at the same time, it really helps if you understand this. 


What is Considered a Psychiatric Disorder?

A diagnosis for a psychiatric disorder should come from a doctor. Until then, you may want to describe your symptoms rather than decide what they mean before you’ve had a consultation. You may be aware you are having symptoms, but it is important not to make assumptions about what your diagnosis may be. For example, many misunderstandings occur when people with no formal diagnosis claim to have ADHD or PTSD. 

While not everyone has the privilege of getting a professional diagnosis, it is important to remember that using official diagnosis terms to describe minor issues can be harmful. The claim may seem innocent enough, but it can take away from the help people with diagnosed disorders can access and contribute to stigmas associated with mental illnesses. 

Here are some examples of psychiatric disorders found in dual-diagnosis patients:

  • Clinical Depression (different than situational depression)
  • Bipolar Disorder (I, II or cyclothymic)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Above is only a partial list of some of the disorders seen among dual-diagnosis patients. All of these conditions can contribute to a substance use disorder (SUD) in different ways. 

They also frequently respond well to a combination of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and pharmacotherapy. Learning more about co-occurring psychiatric and substance disorders is a good idea. Just remember that only medical professionals should diagnose them. 


Treat Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorders at the Same Time

The link between co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders is powerful. If the addicted person feels they are getting even a little relief or escape, it becomes even harder for them to stop. When mental illness isn’t well-managed, the consequences are more likely to lead you to pick up a drug or a drink. Drinking and drugging are proven to make mental illness symptoms worse. 

Treating behavioral health and substance use disorders together gives you the best chance of success. That way, when treatment is completed, you are fully prepared for recovery. There is no way to overestimate the value of something as simple as knowing you have PTSD. 

Not only knowing your diagnosis but having the tools you need to manage it. It really does provide an incredible advantage, especially in early recovery. 


Treatment for Co-Occurring Psychiatric and Substance Disorders 

The best approach for most people is inpatient or day treatment at a facility with sober living. Remember, we are trying to treat problems that took years to develop. Have you ever heard of a person getting “too much help” for a problem? Of course not. 

There’s no such thing as “too much help.” But it’s very easy to get “not enough.” A dual-diagnosis addiction recovery center like Promises Brazos Valley can deliver a transformative experience. That is exactly what a person with co-occurring disorders needs. 

Residential addiction treatment is designed to help breakthroughs happen. Outpatient addiction treatment is a great follow-up. The best way to recovery is a continuum of care.

A continuum-of-care treatment program should include, at a minimum:

  • A licensed facility with accreditation by the Joint Commission
  • Access to safe, medically supervised detox (if necessary)
  • Evaluation and diagnosis by a licensed psychiatrist
  • Dual-diagnosis treatment to address psychiatric issues
  • Individual and group therapy utilizing CBT or DBT
  • Outpatient therapy following treatment (or referrals to appropriate outpatient care)
  • Complete and thorough aftercare planning
  • Access to telemedicine


If You or Someone You Know Needs Help with Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse

If you remember only one thing you’ve read, let it be this: Get as much help as you can. 

Whatever help is available to you, accept it, even if you feel nervous about being in treatment, even if you are worried about school or work. If someone you know needs help, research treatment centers, find resources and educate yourself on addiction, so you are prepared when they are ready to get help. Supporting your loved one through their recovery is important, but don’t forget about your own needs in the process. You can find more guidance and food for thought here.  


Push Through Fear and Get the Help You Need

Recovery takes two things: courage and willingness. You do not need mountains of courage or an endless supply of willingness. But you must challenge yourself to be brave and to really try, even when you don’t want to. 

Remember that bravery doesn’t mean not being afraid. We are all afraid sometimes. No one is without fear entirely. Bravery means summoning the willingness to do a thing anyway, pushing through the fear. No matter who you are, you can remember a time when you did that. 

In addiction, we overcome fear all the time. The only difference here is that your motivation is the promise of recovery. Anytime you think you don’t have what it takes, take a look at your life. Think about all the challenges you have overcome. 

All the times you got through things you thought you never would. You are stronger than you think. Believe it or not, you had to develop a lot of determination and resourcefulness already. If you are living with mental illness and addiction, then you’re a strong and capable person.


What Should I Do Next?

Your search for answers led you here. Hopefully, you are armed with a few more facts than before. Whether you need help or someone you care about does, the next step is the same. Find an ally. There is no reason to face the challenge ahead by yourself. 

If you are looking for help for someone else, do all that you can to engage them in seeking recovery even if that person plays only a small role in the process. 

Getting them invested will not only give them some hopeit also improves the chances they will ultimately go to treatment. Being involved in the decision will also give them the sense that there is a solution and they are part of it. Fostering hope and encouraging even the smallest glimmer of willingness at this time is crucial. 

If you need help, tell someone you trust. If your struggle with mental health and substance use is a secret, let some sunlight in. 

Sharing what you are going through will lighten the burden a bit. It will also help you stay accountable. There may be times when you get cold feet about going to rehab. Having some support sure can help at times like that. 

You could also break the ice and engage with a program. At Promises Brazos Valley, we understand what it’s like to live with co-occurring disorders. Many of us are in recovery ourselves. No matter how far you think you’ve fallen. 

No matter how dark things may seem, you are in good hands here. You will not be judged, blamed or shamed. You will not be pressured. We will listen and we will help. 


There is no time like the present. Why not give us a call right now at 19794260086.

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