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January 7, 2021

The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Connection: How to Get Help for Those You Love

If you have a loved one battling a mental health issue and a substance abuse disorder like alcoholism, drug addiction or both, they may have a co-occurring condition or dual diagnosis. Research on the national population suggests that approximately half of those who experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD will also struggle with a substance abuse disorder and vice versa at some point in their lives.

Understanding the Connection Between Addiction and Mental Health

While substance use disorders and mental illness can co-occur often, each case is unique and comes in many forms. Mental health issues result from a combination of factors including genetics, environment and experiences. Susceptibility and vulnerability to addiction also depend on the individual.

How to Get Help for Your Loved One

Recognizing the signs of a dual diagnosis in your loved one can be painful. Because while you can see the physical and behavioral signs, the loved one struggling with a co-occurring disorder may be in denial and can’t or won’t gauge the extent of their problem. Here are some tips on how to get your loved ones the help they need:

  1. Identify the signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders: Substance abuse and mental illness disorders will have their own set of physical and behavioral signs and symptoms. Having an idea of the separate and co-existing issues your loved one struggles with will help you plan your next steps.
  2. Recognize the severity of the situation: Drug abuse and alcoholism are dangerous, but when they co-occur with a mental illness, the situation becomes much more high-risk. Experts and specialists should handle mental health emergencies.
  3. Define your boundaries: Accept that there will be limitations to what you can do. Ultimately, it will be up to your loved one to commit to treatment and recovery. Remember that enabling unhealthy behavior may prevent your loved one from seeking treatment or recognizing the problem. By defining and enforcing your boundaries, you make it clear that you will no longer accidentally encourage their behavior.
  4. Plan an intervention: It may take an intervention to make your loved one realize how their behavior impacts others and why it’s reached the point that they need to undergo treatment. An intervention will be more effective if those who participate are people your loved one knows and trusts. However, a skilled mental health interventionist’s expertise may be needed in cases when the mental illness demands expert attention.
  5. Find the right treatment program: Because of the complexities of co-occurring disorders, they are hard to diagnose and challenging to treat. Long-term recovery will depend on getting treatment for both disorders. In an integrated approach, mental illness and substance abuse are treated simultaneously.

If your loved one struggles with mental health issues and substance abuse, Communicare is here for you. Please take a look at our services and don’t hesitate to contact us! You can call our 24-hour Crisis Line at any time for anyone experiencing a substance abuse, mental health or IDD crisis: 866-837-7521.