The issue of mental illnesses has troubled societies everywhere since before recorded history, and addiction has the same difficult story. Scientists have linked the two together, noting that people plagued by mental disorders are also likely to have addiction issues. When the two are seen together, treatment is catered to fit the situation, and the two problems are not treated as they would be if there was only one type of disorder present.
One reason that people with mental illnesses often have addiction issues is that many illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorders, cause stress that can be relieved by the use of drugs. When a disorder is left undiagnosed, some people turn to alcohol or other drugs as a means of self-medicating against the debilitating effects of mental illness. This is dangerous because the reward system in the brain becomes further reinforced by the relief of symptoms, creating a greater potential for addictive behaviors to develop.
The mortality rates of those with mental illness are much greater than with other, well known causes for early death. Chain smoking cigarettes, which is defined by smoking more than 20 cigarettes, or one pack, per day, is known to decrease a person’s life expectancy by eight to 10 years. According to a study by the University of Oxford, people that suffer from postpartum depression, schizophrenia, and anorexia have higher mortality rates, on average, than chain smoking. The highest mortality rates were found amongst those with anorexia nervosa and substance use disorders.
When a person experiences a mental illness that is concurrent with addiction issues, they are considered to have what is known as a dual diagnosis. There are several complications for treatment in such a case, and the idea of concurrent mental disorders has only been around since the 1980s. Originally, doctors thought that a patient’s treatment for mental illness had to be postponed in order for addiction to be treated first. Having seen that results with this method were insufficient, doctors have now adopted an integrated approach to treating these conditions. To do this, doctors must gauge the severity of the patient’s mental illness and addiction problems in order to create a treatment plan that is most effective.
This procedure is done by first assessing the patient’s characteristics for both of the ailments that are being treated, and then placing their profile on a quadrant. A patient can be put into the mild or severe category for both addiction and mental disorder, and the treatment is then tailored to fit the needs of the each individual’s profile. This allows doctors to get a full view of the ailments that the patient is suffering from, and makes sure that both the addiction and the mental disorder are given equal attention in treatment.
The correlation between mental illness and addiction is very high, which has led doctors to develop a new style of treatment for these concurrent disorders. Through a client-focused approach and tailored treatment, doctors hope to create a more effective means of therapy for those that are afflicted by both conditions.
By Joseph Chisarick