The Stigma of Mental Health Issues

Substance abuse and underlying mental health issues

Increasingly, research is demonstrating that the treatment of substance abuse must also include the treatment of mental disorders because of the frequent co-occurrence of these problems. In order for holistic or ‘whole’ recovery to take place, merely treating the substance abuse without addressing some of the underlying mental health issues will not suffice. It is estimated that more than 50% of people battling with substance abuse are suffering with underlying mental health issues. In fact, figures reveal that 1 in 4 British adults suffer with a mental health problem. Sadly the stigma surrounding mental health issues does not reflect this prevalence. It appears, for various reasons many hold the belief that mental health problems are a sign of weakness and depression treatment is rarely sought out. Consequently the problems may escalate and become entwined with issues of addiction before receiving help and care.


A recent study conducted by the VA Medical Center of Minneapolis explored the success rate of treatment for alcoholism along with cessation of smoking. One of the principal aims of the study was to examine the impact of depression on the ability to abstain from cigarettes and alcohol.
The findings were interesting, in that they showed that mild to severe levels of depression had no impact on the ability to remain abstinent from cigarettes, whereas depression severely impacted on the ability to abstain from alcohol over a 12 month period.

While both cigarettes and alcohol are psychoactive drugs, they exert their effect on the brain differently. Alcohol lessens inhibitions and has a calming effect, making it an attractive choice for aiding depression and anxiety in the short term. However, managing our mental health with substance abuse is not sustainable and as the above study illustrates, treatment of both the substance abuse and the mental health issue(s) is essential for successful recovery.

What is the relationship between these co-occurring disorders?

Going back to the age old question; ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg’, it might tempting to conclude that individuals suffering with a mental health problem, look to mood altering substances in order to cope. However, it is not possible to entirely rule out the possibility that the substance abuse results in mental health issues. In fact, on closer examination of this complex relationship it shows that the substance abuse and the mental health problem interact and affect one another.

Typically substance abuse acts as a means of self medicating the symptoms of anxiety of depression. Paradoxically, with prolonged use, the very thing that serves to aid and alleviate, becomes the one thing that can exacerbate the symptoms of the mental health issue. Over time, the symptoms of depression and anxiety intensify, and so the substance abuse escalates.

Substance abuse can in fact increase the risk for mental disorders. While mental disorders are a result of a complex interplay of genetics, environmental and out-side factors, substance abuse may be the one thing that triggers the onset of a disorder.

Because of the intrinsic/complex relationship between substance abuse and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, it is vital that both are addressed simultaneously. Both the substance abuse and the mental health problem carry with them their own unique symptoms. Sadly, if left untreated, when mental health problems worsen, the desire to manage intensifies, usually stimulating an increase in the substance abuse. This in turn tends to affect the severity of the mental health problem causing a vicious cycle. Without professional help it can be an arduous task to manage alone.

We believe that residential treatment offers the most conducive environment for recovery for depression treatment. Allowing yourself the space and time to address the issue of substance dependency while simultaneously looking at the underlying emotional issues that feed the addictive cycle, can prove vital in restoring your health and improving the quality of your life.


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