Are Mental Health Issues Always Behind Addiction?

Written by: Lynn Finnell, LMFT, LAADC | Reviewed by: Christian Small, MD

Are Mental Health Issues Always Behind Addiction?

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    Substance use and poor mental health often go hand in hand. What came first depends on various risk factors, including the person’s environment, genetics, and personal history. Addiction treatment is often structured around the assumption that a person gets help with a mental health disorder. Not everyone struggles with mental health, but it’s familiar.

    Addiction is classified as a mental disorder, so yes, technically, a person with substance use disorder has a mental health condition, but what they might not have is a co-occurring disorder that caused their addiction in the first place. A person doesn’t need to be mentally ill or at rock bottom to seek help. Their mental health could be fine, but addiction is still dangerously impacting their life.

    Risk Factors for Addiction

    Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research to know what causes addiction. What has been found is that certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing a habit when you use drugs or drink alcohol. In addition, a long list of mental health disorders can increase your risk of developing an addiction, but there are other risk factors to consider.

    A Person’s Genetics

    If you have people in your family who have struggled with addiction, then there’s a high chance that you are at risk of developing an addiction. Research has found that addiction can be genetically passed down. This is why families need to be open and honest about addiction in their family to mitigate future generations from developing an addiction. Unfortunately, due to the stigma surrounding addiction, many people don’t know that addiction runs in their families due to secrecy and silence.

    High Levels of Stress

    Stress is a common risk factor for addiction. If you are exposed to stressful environments, you could risk developing a habit. Many substances can calm a person down, or make them more productive, despite adverse side effects that can worsen stress. Stress, Unfortunately, stress is often the cause of relapse.

    This is why treatment and recovery put such an emphasis on managing stress. For example, if you have a stressful job or feel stressed out about school, it’s important to learn healthy coping mechanisms instead of turning to substance use as a relief. Coping mechanisms can include talk therapy, meditation, taking a bath, or exercise.

    Trauma Exposure and ACE

    If you’ve experienced trauma, you might use substances as a way to cope with your experience. Even if you haven’t developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dealing with the aftermath of trauma can still be emotionally hard. Childhood trauma can also be an enormous risk factor because it can impact your development. 

    Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs include experiencing abuse, violence, or neglect, feeling a lack of stability or safety in the home, witnessing substance use at an early age, and parental separation at a young age, including divorce or a parent being in prison.

    From the Drug Itself

    Many substances on their own are highly addictive, and other risk factors might not matter. This is why it’s dangerous to experiment with drugs or to test your limits. In addition, some medications can become addictive immediately, while others can become addictive over time.

    Why Knowing the Cause of Your Addiction Is Important

    It is possible for a person to have no mental health problems but still have an addiction. However, because addiction is often associated with poor mental health, it can be challenging for people to realize they have a problem because, despite their addiction, their mental health is fine. Knowing that there are plenty of reasons a person might become addicted to substances erases stereotypes. It opens the door for everyone to get the help they need without second-guessing the severity of their problem.

    People with normal mental health should still be cautious about using substances, especially if they match any of the risk factors above. It’s highly advised that if a person has any of these risk factors, they avoid using any substances that can be addictive.

    Mental health issues often cause addiction for many people, but it isn’t always the case. Experts still don’t know what underlies addiction or how it begins. Many other factors can influence a person’s likelihood of forming a habit. These factors include environmental issues such as stress, family origin, where specific genes are passed down, coping skills, and trauma. 

    Knowing these risk factors, including mental health, can help people get the help they need. Often, people dismiss the idea they have an addiction because their mental health seems normal, and this thinking prevents people from getting the help they need. It helps people to know their risks before they develop an addiction. 

    Villa Oasis San Diego recognizes that many circumstances influence addiction in addition to co-occurring mental health disorders. To learn more, call Villa Oasis today at (323) 739-8673. We’re here to help.

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