How to Help a Drug Addict Who Suffers From Mental Illness
Drug addiction can strike anyone at any time. Unfortunately, sometimes that includes people with mental illness.
When someone is dealing with mental illness and drug addiction, it’s called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
This disorder is especially hard to treat because of the positive correlation between mental illness and addictive substances.
Drug use often exacerbates mental illness, making the underlying cause of addiction harder to treat.
The further someone falls into drugs, the worse their mental illness becomes, which leads to more drugs and more mental symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle.
Understanding how to help a drug addict who also has a mental illness takes patience and persistence.
Why The Correlation?
Drug addiction in mental illness patients stems from two different scenarios.
The first is the need to self-medicate. People suffering from depression, anxiety, neuroses, insomnia, schizophrenia, etc., use drugs to feel “normal.”
Taking cocaine, for instance, could take you from feeling depressed to feeling like the king of the world.
Problems with self-medication arise from tolerance and dependence. The more substance they take, the higher the tolerance they build, and the cycle of increasing their dosage grows stronger.
Our second scenario occurs when substance abuse causes an underlying mental illness to surface.
A mixture of substance, environment, and genetics can trigger deep lying problems that weren’t originally apparent. Many times the new mental illness takes the person off guard, and they continue to use their substance to self-medicate.
It’s no surprise that 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders also abuse addictive substances.
How to Help a Drug Addict With Mental Illness
Treating an addict with a co-occurring disorder isn’t the same as treating strictly drug addiction.
People suffering from mental illness often aren’t equipped to handle the confrontation and emotional stress of traditional drug counseling.
What’s more, giving psychotherapeutic medications to control mental illness is discouraged when the patient presents a dual diagnosis. All of the conventional therapies to treat drug addiction and mental illness essentially get thrown out the window.
Instead, the best strategy is focusing on both disorders at the same time. Specifically, acknowledging which disorder triggered the other.
Encourage the patient to admit that they’re facing two problems. This means hearing the words, “I am an addict,” and “I have depression, anxiety, etc.”
After the person has come to this conclusion, let them speak. You don’t want to trigger the mental illness by digging for their emotions. Let the emotions come naturally.
Many times inpatient therapy is the best option for dual diagnosis patients. Staying in a treatment center can cut the drugs out of their life.
This isolates the mental illness as the only immediate issue, and lets co-treatment progress in steps.
Your end goal is to identify if drugs cause mental illness, or if the mental illness causes the drug use. Knowing which came first allows us to offer dual treatment, but with a specific focus on the underlying trigger.
Understanding how to help a drug addict with a mental disorder takes special knowledge. Treating those with a dual diagnosis differs greatly from usual addiction treatment.
If you’re involved with someone suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, get in contact with our facility.
Our staff has many years dealing first hand with co-occurring disorders.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.