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Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

Posted on April 19, 2021

The relationship of substance use disorders and mental health is important to understand in every person who needs treatment. But, can addiction itself be considered a mental health disorder? Today, let’s talk about how these two disorders come together and how a problem with substance use is different from other mental health concerns.

Is Addiction a Mental Health Disorder?

Substance use disorders are classified as mental health disorders due to the changes they make to the brain. These changes can involve the desensitizing of pleasure centers, leading to an increase in substance use to achieve the same results. SUDs can also occur with other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Patients with co-occurring disorders can find help through dual diagnosis treatment.

How does addiction change your brain?

Drug and alcohol use affects every part of our being, especially the brain. Repeated substance use over time alters how the brain functions. It’s helpful to understand how these changes take place when you’re planning to begin the work of healing in recovery.

The brain operates on a reward system. When we do things that stimulate pleasure centers in the brain, we feel good. Addiction basically overloads those pleasure centers until it dulls and desensitizes them. This action can make it harder to feel motivated and satisfied in everyday life.

Another brain change is a sharper reaction to the stress in your life. This reaction may lead to a craving for higher amounts of drugs or alcohols. You may feel angry or frustrated if substances are hard to get.

The risk of relapse can come from an additional change in the brain of someone with an SUD. It’s the weakening of what’s known as executive functioning. You (or others) may notice how it shows up as trouble with self-regulation, impulse control, and decision-making.

Has addiction always been a mental health disorder?

You may not recognize a substance use disorder as a mental health issue. Often, the two are discussed separately. But, an SUD or addiction is a mental health disorder, and here’s why. As we mentioned above, SUDs change the brain in very basic ways. They create compulsive behaviors to seek out drugs or alcohol. They can affect someone’s ability to maintain self-care and stay functional in life.

The behavior changes can be seen as “unexpected” in someone living with an SUD. They may disrupt every part of a person’s life: work or school, home, and relationships. A person with a substance use disorder can also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. The symptoms of these two can overlap and make it harder to diagnose the two disorders.

How does addiction differ from other mental health disorders?

There’s certainly a link between substance use and other mental health disorders. One can influence the other, and their symptoms can overlap. It’s common for people with one disorder to be diagnosed with the other. But, an SUD has its own set of physical risks that can be more immediate.

The potential for an SUD to cause medical harm is always present. The behavior of drug or alcohol use can put someone at a higher risk of overdose, hospitalization, or death. Using an opioid for longer than prescribed could put someone at risk for dependence, even after only a few days. Another example of potential medical complications comes from dangerous drug interactions. Mixing alcohol with an opioid can lead to respiratory failure or even death.

Origins can help.

The treatment team at Origins understands the connection between addiction and mental health disorder. We offer dual diagnosis treatment for people with SUDs who may have gone undiagnosed for years while living with depression, anxiety, trauma or some other factor affecting their substance use. Unresolved trauma can be such a significant factor that we offer trauma therapies as one piece of a program.

When you answer the question, is addiction a mental illness? You begin to see a new door wide open of treatment options. Patients begin with medical stabilization and detoxification before stepping into individualized treatment. Group therapy and other activities help patients learn how to communicate with peers in healthy ways and build a sense of community. A program also involves continuing care planning so healing and staying sober remains a priority beyond a residential stay.

Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 844-843-8935.