Drug addiction is a disease that affects 21 million people in the United States alone. 90% of these individuals never receive treatment, often experiencing the adverse long-term effects of using drugs. Addiction itself classifies as a mental illness because of the way it alters the brain. If left unchecked, it can lead to various, often debilitating mental disorders such as depression and psychosis.
The relationship between mental illness and drug abuse is an extensively covered topic. It’s observed that mental health disorders co-occur alongside drug addiction or any form of substance abuse. Drug addiction isn’t just limited to illegal drugs, as individuals can also get addicted to prescription medication such as pain killers and sleeping pills.
Effects of Drug Misuse on Mental Health
Individuals resort to substance abuse for all kinds of reasons. Nevertheless, it can negatively impact both mental and physical health. The harmful effects vary depending on the type of drug used as different substances produce distinctive consequences. The way users deliver the drugs into their bodies also produces different outcomes. For instance, drugs directly injected into the blood have a more pronounced and immediate effect than if ingested through swallowing or inhalation.
Long-Term Effects of Using Drugs
Drugs change how our brain functions, altering its conventional system of sending, receiving, and processing information. Long-term abuse can significantly impact a user’s brain for the worse. In extreme cases, it can lead to severe full-blown brain disorders.
Some of the serious mental illnesses long-term drug abuse can trigger are:
- Major Depression – A common mental disability characterized by pervasive feelings of sadness and low energy. It affects a person’s day-to-day functioning and is one of the leading causes of suicide.
- Anxiety Disorders – Another common illness where the sufferer displays abnormal excessive fear or anxiety towards a theme. The feelings are more intense than normal sensations of nervousness.
- Bipolar Disorder – is an illness that creates extreme feelings of high and low moods, often accompanied by sudden mood swings in the opposite direction. It affects a person’s thinking, behavior, and sleep patterns.
- Psychosis – This illness can also be substance-induced. It forces the person suffering to experience thoughts and emotions that are out of place with reality.
- Personality Disorders – This mental illness compels sufferers to think, function, and behave differently from what society deems appropriate.
- Schizophrenia – is considered one of the most debilitating mental disorders. Individuals with schizophrenia can’t tell what’s real from imagined.
Can Drugs Cause Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe chronic brain disorder considered worldwide as one of the most impairing mental illnesses. Psychotic symptoms accompany this psychiatric disorder. Whenever it becomes active, it causes the sufferer to perceive reality unnaturally. While drugs do not cause this illness, they can provoke its symptoms, especially if the individual has a genetic predisposition.
Experts theorized that the culprit is the dopamine rush caused by certain substances. Drugs flood the brain of dopamine, sometimes overwhelming it. The brain shuts down receptors and decreases its dopamine production to safeguard itself from abnormal dopamine levels. This cycle can permanently alter brain functions when repeated over time, leaving it open for developing schizophrenia symptoms.
Can Drugs Make You Paranoid?
Substances like drugs and alcohol already have mind-altering properties. But the extent to which drugs can affect the brain is much more profound. There are actually drugs that make you paranoid. Recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and amphetamines can set paranoia in motion, especially if the user already has mental health issues.
Paranoia is an intrusive irrational feeling that some drug users can experience. These feelings can be persistent, compelling the individual to think that something threatens them in some way. Paranoia is often a symptom rather than the disorder itself. It is triggered by conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.
Can Drugs Cause Personality Disorders?
There is a link between drug addiction and a set of mental health conditions known as personality disorders. Unhealthy thinking and behavior considered by society as out of the norm characterize these illnesses. Drug addiction doesn’t cause personality disorders, but rather vice versa. Individuals with personality disorders have a higher chance of turning to drugs or alcohol and developing substance abuse disorders.
Substance abuse disorders are prevalent among people with antisocial personality disorders (APD). In fact, 90% of APD sufferers also become dependent on substances. The strong relationship between antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse means that those affected by the condition are inclined to abuse drugs at some point or another.
Can Drugs Make You Lose Touch With Reality?
Several drugs can trigger and worsen a brain disorder called psychosis. This serious illness makes the individuals who are suffering “lose touch with reality.” The condition is characterized by hallucinations where the person experiences something that’s not real and delusions where their minds get filled with false beliefs.
As to what drugs can cause permanent psychosis, many substances, particularly stimulants and hallucinogens, cause psychotic episodes, getting more frequent the more these users abuse these substances. Drug-induced psychosis is rarely permanent, so long as the person receives treatment.
Drugs that Can Cause Mental Health Problems
Here is a list of mental health problems and the substances that can trigger or worsen them. This list may be incomplete, but it should inform you of the most common drug-induced mental illnesses out there.
|Mental Illness||Substance Triggers|
Note: The substance classifications included in this table encompass both controlled and illegal substances. For example, illicit drugs such as cocaine and prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall fall under Psychostimulants.
Can Medication Worsen Mental Illness?
Mental health medications are practical and powerful drugs used to treat a variety of conditions. However, some medications are not without side effects. Medication side effects can be physical such as muscle cramps, dizziness, and nausea. It could also be mental, such as induced depression, anxiety, and memory loss. These substance-induced side effects typically occur due to long-term medication use. They can also be triggered when the patient suddenly stops taking their prescribed drugs.
Medication can also change people’s personalities. Some medicines have become less prescribed due to their mind-altering side effects. People, who take prescription drugs often ask: “does anxiety medication change your personality?” The answer is medication does have the capacity to change one’s perspective and personality. These changes are either activated by an adverse side-effect or could be the actual desirable effect of the drug.
Relationship Between Mental Illness and Drug Abuse
By now, you should have a good understanding of the vital link between mental illness and drug abuse. Mental illness is one of the most dangerous long-term effects of drugs. Addiction in itself is considered an illness and paired with a mental disorder; it could be life-threatening. A brain disorder that co-occurs with drug addiction can indeed spiral mental health out of control. Despite being crystal clear, the relationship between mental illness and drug use remains complex.
What Comes First: Substance Abuse or Mental Health Problems?
A common argument between experts when it comes to mental illness and drug abuse is which comes first. There is no general rule of thumb as to which precedes the other. A person can develop mental health problems as a result of substance abuse. While not all drug addicts develop a co-occurring mental illness, there are many cases where users manifest mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and other disorders from drug use. Long-term or chronic drug use can also lead to permanent changes in the brain’s structure, leading to disabilities such as schizophrenia.
It’s evident that substance abuse leads to an unhealthy mind, but it could also happen vice versa. Those with mental disorders have a significantly higher risk of turning to drugs or alcohol. Individuals suffering from painful mental disorders like anxiety and depression use substances as temporary symptom reliefs. While substances can temporarily alleviate symptoms, they further worsen the illness. Prolonged use of psychoactive drugs can cause brain damage, even though they seem to provide relief for the time being.
Why Addiction and Mental Illness Co-Occur
Mental disorders have a track record of co-existing with addiction. Millions of Americans experience this co-occurrence, but only less than 10% of sufferers get the right treatment. As was mentioned, substance abuse can permanently alter the brain. In many cases, the brain regions rewired by addiction are also the same ones that are affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. This dual impact causes comorbidities that can sometimes be challenging to treat.
Why Is It Difficult to Diagnose Both Conditions?
Substance abuse and their co-occurring mental illness often become complicated to treat since they usually share the same symptoms. Because they share common indicators, it can be hard to detect if a patient has a co-existing mental illness. This covert relationship is one of the reasons why many comorbidities related to drug use remain untreated.
For treatment to be successful, both substance abuse and its accompanying mental illness must be addressed simultaneously. Doctors who’ve gone through the proper training tailored to target such comorbidities must handle treatment.
If you or someone you know suffers from substance abuse or any mental illnesses, the best course of action would be to seek immediate treatment. Keep in mind that diagnosis must be accurate so that you can get the most effective treatment. The proper intervention will address and resolve an individual’s substance abuse issue along with the coinciding mental illness at the same time to ensure the quickest recovery.