Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses Essay

There is much evidence to back up the fact that drug use disorders and mental illnesses commonly go hand in hand. There are a few factors that both of these diseases have in common. Involvement of similar brain regions and overlapping genetic vulnerabilities are a couple. Some areas of the brain are affected by both drug use and disorders. A chemical in the brain called dopamine, which is responsible for carrying messages from neuron to neuron, are usually affected by addictive substances. Dopamine may also be involved in depression, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders.

There is a search for genes that might predispose individuals to develop both drug addiction and other mental illnesses. It is estimated that 40-60 percent of an individual’s vulnerability to addiction is attributed to genetics. The development of drug use disorders and mental illnesses could be influenced by genes. Genes can act indirectly by altering how an individual responds to stress or by increasing the likelihood of risk-taking and novelty seeking behaviors (n. a. , 2010). Adolescence is a very vulnerable time for an individual’s development.

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Drug use often begins in adolescence and this is also when the fist signs of mental illness commonly appear. When drugs are abused they affect circuits in the brain that are still maturing into early adulthood such as learning and memory, reward, decision making, and behavioral control. It is said that early occurrence increases later risk. Early drug use can be a risk factor for substance abuse problems later in life. It is also suggested that this may also be a risk factor for the later occurrence of other mental illnesses.

Findings in a study done in 2005 suggests that frequent use of marijuana use during adolescence can increase the risk of psychosis in adulthood (n. a. , 2010). This was only prevalent in those who carry a particular gene variant. On the flip side it is also true that having a mental disorder in childhood or adolescence can increase the risk of later drug abuse problems. This commonly occurs in individuals with conduct disorder and untreated attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

To be sure that an individual does or does not have both problems with drug abuse and mental illnesses a thorough mental health assessment should be done when one enters a program for substance abuse and vise versa. Patients who have both a drug use disorder and another mental illness often show symptoms that are persistent, severe, and resistant to treatment. This is compared to patients who have either disorder alone (n. a. , 2012). There are effective medications that exist for treating opioid, alcohol, and nicotine addiction.

These medications are also known for alleviating the symptoms of many other mental disorders. An example of this is the drug Wellbutrin or Zyban that is approved for treating depression and nicotine dependence. This drug might also be able to help reduce craving and use of methamphetamine. These drugs have not yet been fully proven and understood but they are being looked into. There is a complex relationship between addiction and mental illness. Treatment needs to focus on both conditions at the same time, once the right diagnoses has been made.

The qualities of mental illness are often compounded by drug and alcohol abuse, making it challenging to get the right diagnoses and treatment for both. A mental illness can sometimes increase the risk of drug abuse due to self-medicating. On the other side of things drug abuse can lead to conditions like anxiety and depression. It is also possible that one of the disorders can be worse than the other. There are a few examples of how one would self medicate to try to get rid of the mental illness they are dealing with.

People with depression use drugs to mask the symptoms of depression. People with bipolar disorder use drugs to try to smooth out the mood swings. People with schizophrenia may try to use drugs as a way to ease the distress that the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions can cause. It is more common than not for men and women to abuse drugs when they suffer from anxiety. Individuals with a mental disorder may be more likely to show risk-taking behaviors. These may include buying and using illegal drugs or drinking heavily, both of which could easily lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

Fifty percent of those with an addictive disorder will have a psychiatric disorder. For those who have a psychiatric disorder, about twenty percent have an addiction problem (Foster, 2009). I learned a lot from reading the articles about how drug abuse problems and mental illnesses go hand in hand. There is a lot of medical evidence to support this. The question of which comes first, the drug abuse or the mental illness, is a lot like the question of the chicken or the egg. There is no doubt in my mind that in most cases people with drug dependency have underlying mental health issues.

It is very common for people to self medicate especially if their illness goes undetected and untreated. I also know that a lot of the drugs that people do can have long term affects on the mind and body. I ultimately learned that it is important to screen and individual for both of these things so that they can be properly treated so they can actually heal. If an individual only gets one of the problems fixed, there is going to be no progress made to get better.


Foster, L. (2009). How Mental Illness and Addiction Influence Each Other. Everyday Health. Retrieved November 2012: http://www. everydayhealth. com/addiction/mental-illness-and-addiction. aspx (n. a. ) (2010). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 2012: http://www. drugabuse. gov/publications/research-reports/comorbidityaddiction-other-mental-illnesses/why-do-drug-use-disorders-often-co-occur-other-men (n. a. ) (2012). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses. Steps for Recovery. Retrieved November 2012: http://steps4recovery. org/comorbidity-addiction-and-other-mental-illnesses-p363-107. htm


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