Why It’s Important to Take Care of Your Mental Health When Battling SUD

October 11, 2019 

Mental illness and substance use disorders often go hand in hand. Reasons for this are not fully known. Some speculate that substance use triggers latent mental health conditions, while others believe that substance use is often caused by a desire to self-medicate untreated mental illness. Both realities are likely true, though it can be hard sometimes to tease out which came first in individual patients: the mental illness or the substance use disorder. But when it comes to taking care of your mental health, knowing which disorder arose first doesn’t necessarily matter. What matters is prioritizing both conditions.

Some treatment modalities make it difficult to treat patients with dual-diagnoses. For example, some mental health practitioners will refuse to treat patients who are actively using drugs until they have a certain amount of recovery time under their belt. On the flip side, some addiction treatment providers will ignore or downplay the role of mental illness in recovery, and may even reduce legitimate symptoms and barriers to a “refusal” or “unreadiness” to achieve sobriety. Both of these approaches fail to recognize the complex relationship between mental health and addiction.

For people with co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions, treating both sides of the struggle at once is crucial—and may make the difference between successful remission and relapse. This is why  offering a therapeutic component to recovery practices is incredibly important. If a patient is suffering from both opioid use disorder and major depression, for example, then prescribing buprenorphine may not be enough to suppress her desire to use drugs. It is important, however, that treatment providers take an individualized approach to care. While mental illness and addiction commonly go hand-in-hand, this is not always the case. A patient who has an opioid use disorder without a mental illness component may end up being hindered by being forced into therapy he or she may not need.

Another important aspect of recovery is involving a trauma-informed approach to care. Rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are higher among people with substance use disorders than the general public. Patients with PTSD will require more carefully attuned therapeutic services than those without; but even many addiction patients who do not have PTSD may still benefit from a trauma informed approach to care. The social stigma and criminalization attached to drug use leaves many people with addiction vulnerable to traumatic circumstances. Whether that means traumatic invalidation by family members who do not understand their condition, or sexual violence while inebriated, habitual drug use can result in traumatic events. It is important for practitioners to respect patients’ need to address these traumas in their own time, and for patients to understand and value that they posses this right as well.

Overcoming co-occurring mental illness and addiction disorders is not easy, but it is possible. When both patient and provider recognize the importance of taking a holistic approach to care, the outcome becomes even brighter.

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email scholarships@ammonfoundation.org.