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Identifying Mental Illness, Substance Use Disorders, Or Both

Serenity Lane Treatment Center
Home Identifying Mental Illness, Substance Use Disorders, Or Both

I feel like I’m going CRAZY! I’m SO stressed out. I just don’t want to adult today. Mental health plays an essential role in our daily lives and overall well-being. However, too often it gets put on the back burner for whatever reason. Maybe we’re too busy, and we don’t prioritize our mental health. Maybe we don’t know where to start. Or maybe, we’re afraid of the stigma that has historically surrounded mental illness.

Oregon in particular has the highest prevalence of mental illness in the country, making it especially pressing to address.

Approximately one out of every five adults in the United States has a mental illness. And for those of us who do, it takes an average of 11 years from when we have symptoms to when we get treatment.

woman holding glassesAnd for something that gets put off far too often and for far too long, the consequences are serious and potentially deadly. Of those who have died by suicide, 46% have been diagnosed with a mental illness and 90% have experienced the symptoms of one.

Oregon has the ninth highest suicide rate in the country with 15.9 suicides per 100,000 people.

There are other implications of mental illness as well, including addiction. Substances are commonly used to cope with the symptoms of mental illness. In fact, 9.2 million adults in the United States have both a mental illness and substance use disorder.

But what mental illnesses are the most common culprits and how can we identify them?

Could it Be a Mental Illness?

It’s important to know the different types of mental health conditions and what symptoms are associated with what mental illness in order to be able to gauge whether you might have one or not.

The types of mental illnesses that appear most often and their symptoms include:

  • Anxiety disorders

Including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, these conditions are categorized by sweating, increased heart rate, and/or hyperventilation.

You could have an anxiety disorder if your response is often more severe than the situation warrants and if you have a hard time controlling that response. Many even recognize that what they are experiencing isn’t rational but are powerless to stop it.

Those with anxiety disorders feel fearful, tense, and nervous. They experience a sense of impending doom.

  • Mood disorders

Including bipolar disorder and depression, these disorders are characterized by periods of high and/or low emotional states. These feelings of extreme sadness and/or happiness exist even when life circumstances are considered good.

Bipolar disorder usually includes periods of both high and low emotional periods, while depression consists of prolonged bouts of sadness and irritability.

  • Psychotic disorders

Including schizophrenia and other related conditions, psychotic disorders are characterized by disconnecting from reality, hallucinations, delusions, and unusual thought patterns and perceptions.

  • Personality disorders

Including antisocial, borderline, and paranoid personality disorders, these conditions are categorized by unstable relationships, unpredictable, unusual, and/or unhealthy thought patterns and/or behavior.

People with personality disorders have intense and rigid personality traits.

It’s common for mental illnesses like these to exist simultaneously with substance use disorders. Roughly half of those with a mental illness have or will have a substance use disorder and vice versa. 

Could it Be a Substance Use Disorder?

beveragesA substance use disorder is defined as the continuous use of drugs and/or alcohol to the degree that the use causes significant impairment. Examples of this include health issues, problems at work, school, or home, and disability due to use.

In Oregon alone, one out of every 10 of us suffer from addiction. And it isn’t uncommon for those addictions to be ignored. In fact, 9.22% are left untreated.

There is a long list of substances that can be misused. Some of these include alcohol, depressants, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, marijuana, opioids, and stimulants.

But how can you tell if your substance use has turned into a disorder? Here are the symptoms and behaviors associated with addiction:

  • Feeling the need to use regularly
  • Urges that overwhelm other thoughts
  • Having to use more to get a similar result
  • Using more of the drug over a longer period of time than anticipated
  • Always having a supply, even if you can’t afford it
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, social activities, and hobbies
  • Continuing use even when there are consequences
  • Risky behavior (driving under the influence, stealing, etc.)
  • Issues at work and/or school
  • Changes in behavior, secretiveness
  • Trying and failing to stop using

If these behaviors resonate with you, it could indicate a substance use disorder. Or maybe you’ve found that the symptoms of both a mental illness and a substance use disorder sound familiar.

Could it Be Both?

It’s common for people to have both a mental illness and substance use disorder. When someone experiences two or more disorders simultaneously or subsequently, it is known as co-occurring.

Substances actually make the symptoms of mental illness worse. And mental illness often leads to—or increases—substance use as an attempt to self-medicate.

But why do these two disorders occur together so often?

There are several explanations. One is the previously mentioned use of substances to self-medicate a mental illness. Another reason is that mental illness and substance use disorders share some of the same risk factors, including trauma and stress.

Additionally, certain substances can cause symptoms of mental illness. And both disorders can also contribute to the development of the other.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers to treating both disorders. Some barriers to mental illness treatment are:

  • Cost
  • Not knowing where to get treatment
  • Thinking you can handle it on your own
  • Fear of commitment or others’ opinions
  • Believing treatment won’t be effective
  • Time
  • Worries about confidentiality

Some barriers to addiction treatment are:

  • Not being ready to get sober
  • Lacking health insurance or financial resources
  • Insurance not covering the cost of treatment
  • Fear of others’ opinions or how it will impact their job
  • Not knowing where to get treatment
  • Not finding a program with the right type of treatment

If you think you might have a mental illness, substance use disorder, or both, it’s important to get beyond the barriers and see what options you have.

What Can Help?

Some of the most common remedies for mental illness and/or substance use disorders are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and motivational interviewing.

man lying on therapist's couchCBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps you cope and identify problematic thought patterns in order to have healthy responses and behaviors.

DBT is a form of CBT that targets self-destructive behaviors. It helps with acceptance and behavioral change. It is often used for people with more than one diagnosis.

Motivational interviewing is a form of patient-centered counseling that aims to turn the patient’s ambivalence into motivation to change.

No matter what you are struggling with, you aren’t alone and there are solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What qualifies as a substance use disorder?

A substance use disorder occurs when someone is unable to control their use of drugs and/or alcohol, leading to consequences or health issues.

Why are people with drug problems more likely to also have other mental health problems?

Both disorders share some of the same risk factors: substances are used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental illness, using certain drugs produces symptoms of mental illness, and both contribute to the development of the other.

What is a co-occurring disorder?

When someone experiences two disorders simultaneously or one after the other. The disorders also have a negative impact on one another.

Serenity Lane has what it takes to treat both mental illness and substance use disorders at our facility in Salem, OR. We understand how common it is to experience both conditions and the impact they have on one another. Don’t know where to start? Call us at 800-543-9905 for a free initial consultation.

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