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Article. Published on Jan 14, 2017.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health


Using Drugs or Alcohol

Do you ever feel like you’re using drugs or alcohol to get some relief from stress? Have you ever found that you need some sort of drug or alcoholic stimulation to getting around to your regular activities? Have you ever had the people you spend a lot of time with suggest that you cut it back with alcohol or drug intake?

If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, it might be worth considering that you’ve been using these substances to suppress a co-occurring mental health problem. Studies show that people who suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder (such as depression, bipolar disorder and mania) are twice as likely than the general population to have a co-occurring problem with drug addiction (See Source). Other mental health disorders that show a similar concurrence with substance abuse include antisocial personality disorder and conduct disorder. There are many reasons why this may be the case: for instance, drug abuse may bring out the symptoms of other mental illness. Conversely, mental health disorders may also bring about drug abuse: possibly as a means of self-medication.

While it is important to get prescribed medication for the mental health disorders you may be suffering from, it is imperative to ensure that you don’t self-medicate. Medication used to treat mental health disorders are usually psychotropic, they affect the chemicals in your brain. The substances you may use to get some relief from your stress or circumstances follow the same principle, they work by fluctuating the levels of the different chemicals in your brain. However, in the case of self-medicating individuals, unregulated and non-prescribed usage of psychotropic drugs can lead to a dependence, which then leads to an addiction.

How to decrease your dependence on addictive substances?

Drug addiction is not a matter of willpower; it is a disorder which alters brain function. Addiction causes cognitive, emotional and behavioural changes which result in the individual continually seeking drugs, even when they know that they are causing harm to either themselves or other people. All this makes it exceedingly difficult for persons with drug addiction to stop using on their own, hence treating drug addiction with the help of a professional is the best way to go forward.

Withdrawal symptoms

Stopping isn’t as easy as getting rid of the pills. In the case of long term drug or alcohol abuse, your mind and body develops a dependence upon the substance being used. Furthermore, attempting to detox from certain drugs without medical assistance can endanger your life. One of the first challenges faced by individuals trying to give up a drug dependence is withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include loss of appetite, distorted decision making and sluggish motor skills. However, the intensity of the withdrawal as well as the particular symptoms you might face varies depending on the composition, dosage and frequency of the substance you have been using. In an addiction treatment programme, medical professionals are on hand to help you through the difficult withdrawal symptoms.

Still, it is important to note, there is always hope, and a calm after the storm. While withdrawal is difficult, with the right medical and psychiatric intervention, it can be made easier. Recovery may be a long and demanding road, but the destination is always worth it. You will realise that the other mental health problems you may have tried to suppress with substance abuse are a lot easier to deal with after your symptoms of withdrawal have faded.


There’s always hope and ways to cope. If you are somebody experiencing stress, anxiety or depression and are intoxicating yourself to suppress it, it is best to seek help. Expert therapists have helped people in the past overcome their addiction and cope with their mental problems. It may be difficult to talk about your addiction initially, although, reaching out is your first step to overcoming it. Here are a few things you should consider while going through therapy.
  • Think about how your life is being affected because of your dependence on the substance and accept that therapy will help you deal with your mental health problems more efficiently.
  • Be prepared to talk about how you felt both before and while using the drug
  • Learn more about substance abuse and mental illness and how they interact with each other
  • Accept that once you are sober, you still have to deal with your mental illness
  • Know that relapses are part of the recovery process

Seek Help: Family, Friends, Support group

Getting over an addiction, especially when you are using it to suppress a mental illness, can be difficult for you and for the ones around you. Sometimes, what your friends and family say out of concern may seem like they’re trying to point out your dependency. Understanding that they’re there to help is a step forward, and accepting their help, helps you on your journey to de-addiction. Here are a few things you could consider when you’re seeking help.

  • Talk to your friends and family, and help them understand how your dependency on substances makes you feel
  • Try to attend more family events and social gatherings, take care to not isolate yourself (while on your path to recovery). However, avoid situations where you feel you may lose control of your sobriety
  • Join a support group and actively participate in their sessions and activities
  • Track your sober streak: celebrating milestones often helps to increase your motivation to stay sober

Giving help: some tips for the caregiver

Helping someone with mental health disorders and substance abuse can be a difficult task, but patience, perseverance and research will make it much easier. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Be realistic about how much you can help; caregivers often take up the entire responsibility of dealing with the individual’s substance abuse. The individual has to have the intrinsic motivation to become sober, only then will the recovery process take hold
  • Research on how you should help; acting on assumptions may worsen the situation for you and the person you are trying to help
  • Consider personal therapy for both the person you are trying to help and yourself. There will be situations that a mental health professional may be better equipped to deal with. Additionally, it is just as important for you to be well while taking care of someone else
  • Remember to take precautions as the person you’re trying to help may be resistant to treatment
  • Don’t expect a dramatic shift in thinking or behaviour right away. Keep in mind that there is no quick fix – prepare yourself for the long haul.

According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, alcoholism has increased by about 55% between 1992 and 2012 (See Source). Every single day, in India, there are 10 suicides committed related to substance abuse (See Source). These are troubling statistics and it is vital that if you think that either you or someone you know may have a problem with substance abuse, you should seek some professional help.