Addiction And Substance Abuse –The Chicken Or The Egg

Some individuals possess what are called concurrent disorders. Individuals with concurrent disorders possess both a mental health illness as well as an addiction.  chicken or egg1Some individuals who are depressed drink to mask their depression. Conversely, many alcoholics become clinically depressed over time because alcohol is a depressant and it changes their brain chemistry to produce chronic depression.

It is estimated that 15–20% of those seeking help for their mental health issues are also struggling with an addiction. Many in the addiction’s field ask, Which came first the mental health illness or the addiction, or vice versa?

When individuals engage in substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, etc.) and they are unable to quit usage on their own even though they have tried repeatedly, but succumb to using again, they might be said to possess an addiction. Addictions are multi-faceted whereby they effect individuals in one or more ways; biologically, psychologically or socially. When the body develops withdrawal symptoms after the individual discontinues use, they are said to possess a physical tolerance (body needs it). Conversely, when an individual craves a substance that leads them to suffer emotionally and/or impedes their rational functioning without it, they are said to possess a psychological addiction.

Addiction and substance dependence is a slow, insidious process which develops over time through repeated use and eventual abuse of the drug of choice. When most addicts began using their substance of choice and using moderately, they were in control. As they increased their frequency in usage as well as increasing doses of the substance, their ability to moderately manage their intake and control over the use of the substance diminished. Eventually they passed a point of no return where they couldn’t control their substance use any longer.

Certain types of drugs and substances produce different outcomes. Substances such as alcohol have the ability to produce tolerance within individuals over time. In the beginning small doses provided intoxication and effects on the central nervous system, however as the individual becomes more proficient in their drinking over time they require higher doses to produce the same high. Some drugs such as hallucinogens (marijuana, hashish, LCD, etc.) are able to produce the same highs without the individual having to increase their dose.

Whenever an individual chooses to quit using their substance of choice either by going “cold turkey” (quitting immediately) or going into a detoxification program they are often likely to develop symptoms of withdrawal. When the body has developed a tolerance to a substance, the individual is physiologically addicted to the substance. Individuals experience unpleasant, even violent symptoms in their bodies due to quitting. When an individual is able to quit with minimal or no disruptive bodily sensations, rather experience intense or violent changes in their moods, they are most likely addicted to their substance of choice at a psychological/mental level. Individuals with physiological addictions may slip and use their substance of choice again because they feel the need to alleviate a physical symptom. Conversely, individuals with psychological addictions to substances may use again after a “slip” as a form of escapism, instant gratification “high”, or to cope mentally with psychological stress.

The key to treating any concurrent disorder is to treat both the addiction and the mental health disorder simultaneously. In the case of an alcoholic who suffers from chronic depression, or the clinically depressed individual who is an alcoholic (drinking to cope or mask their depression), it makes no difference which came first–the mental illness or the addiction. The key is treating both equally and effectively, thus helping the individual achieve their most optimal level of functioning, reducing greater damage to their mind/body, and helping them reach a new level of self-efficacy!

Now the question that is foremost in the minds of those who seek help is, how much does drug and alcohol detox cost?. That’s a question for another day.

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