Studies have shown that often substance abuse and mental abuse go hand in hand. In fact, it’s estimated that as much as 60% of individuals who are living with one are also battling the other. It’s difficult to get a good grasp on the true numbers, however, because many people living with a mental health disorder are unaware of it and have not been properly diagnosed. Also, they may be using substances to cope with the symptoms of their disorder, masking what’s really going on.
It’s important for friends and loved ones to remember this when attempting to help the individual. It can be tricky, but both disorders need to be addressed separately in order for treatment to be effective.
"Mental health problems and substance abuse are often seen together because one makes you more vulnerable to the other," says psychiatrist Dr. Alan Manevitz.
Mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety or depression, and PTSD can leave a person with functional problems that affect them daily in many different aspects of life, such as sleeping, eating, interacting socially, and being in a crowd. These disorders can also create impulsive behavior, so taking risks, using drugs or alcohol, and putting themselves in danger are all a very real possibility. For this reason, it’s imperative that you, as a loved one, prevent the individual from having access to weapons, particularly if they are experiencing depression.
One of the main issues with addressing substance abuse problems in individuals who are battling mental health disorders is that abruptly stopping drug or alcohol use can lead to other serious complications. Often, substances are used to cope with bad memories or confusing behavior, especially when mental health disorders have not been diagnosed, and without them those bad memories or feelings surge back up to the surface. It’s important, therefore, that you help them find treatment for both the substance abuse and the mental health disorder as soon as possible.
Teens are especially hit hard by these disorders, so parents should be aware of the risks and the symptoms in order to get help efficiently. The warning signs of substance abuse and mental health issues are remarkably similar in many cases and can include:
- Disinterest in things they once enjoyed
- Isolation from friends or family
- Suddenly displaying poor performance at work or school
- Being unable to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in behavior and mood
- Sudden, violent mood swings
- Sudden manic periods of elation
Treatment can range from talk therapy to medication, and in some cases the individual may need to seek inpatient help at a facility equipped with counselors and doctors who can diagnose the condition and help them recover from substance abuse. If your loved one is suffering with these conditions, offer to help him or her find something to fit his or her needs. Listen without judgment and let your loved one know you’re there for him or her.
It’s also a good idea to help plan social events that will keep your loved one from suffering from isolation. The good company of friends and family can go a long way. This could include weekly family meals, dinner and a movie, or shopping together, just as a few examples. The key is spending quality time and having fun. Perhaps you could help find an activity or hobby group related to his or her interests.
You may also help locate an exercise group, which can play to the benefits of social interaction, as well as help with physical health. Exercise alone can contribute to a better mood.
Above all else, be present. Listen to what your loved one has to say, and don’t judge. Be there for and provide a positive influence in his or her life.
Paige Johnson writes about health and fitness for LearnFit.org.