The media often portrays someone who has difficulty making it through each day and who seems to have trouble functioning, as fighting a mental illness. Perhaps it is lost love, unemployment, or depression, but ultimately, that person reaches for an addictive substance.

Suddenly the individual’s life spins out of control with no help in sight. Since the media depicts the inherent link between the two, it must mean that anyone with mental illness will begin abusing substances, rights?

The Truth

The truth is complex because while the two can be exclusive, the illness and abuse can often take root in an individual and work together to destroy their life just as seen on the silver screen. On the other hand, that is not always the case; all people with substance abuse and mental illness do not have a trigger of some type that automatically makes them susceptible to the other one.

Mental Illness

That is, if your friend has a diagnosed bipolar disorder it does not mean he or she will automatically begin abusing food, alcohol, or sex to alleviate their symptoms. While there can be many bipolar individuals that have a trigger that urges them toward substance abuse, there are just as many that never make that leap.

Grey Areas

Individuals with mood disorders such as depression, mania, and anxiety, have been studied for several decades and the study’s conclusion was surprising. While many clinicians believed there was a strong link between moods and substance abuse, the study participants were only 10 percent more likely to abuse substances than other mentally ill participants without mood disorders.

There was also a greater dependency on a secondary substance for men than women, while more women tended to struggle through mood disorders.

Dual Treatment

Distinguishing between the mental health symptoms and the indicators of substance abuse can be difficult. The longer a person lives their life with one or both issues, the more able they become at hiding the signs. While a person with mental issues may eventually seek medical or therapeutic help, that same person often neglects to mention the substance abuse.

Since the same part of the brain can be triggered by the illness and substances use, it is frequently very difficult to successfully treat one issue without treating both.

Dual Recovery

While there are new medications that appear to help a person through substance withdrawals while easing their psychological stress, sometimes this is like placing a bandage on a gaping wound. Moving into a treatment facility that can monitor the patient 24 hours a day can be more successful than a once-a-week therapy session.

That is because those individuals fighting addiction and mental illness at the same time typically need physical, emotional, and psychological help. Treatment can be minimally successful without moving into a facility, but only if the individual agrees to seek therapy and enroll in a substance abuse program.

Whether there is a link between mental illness and substance abuse is unknown. The human body is a mysterious territory of hormones, neurons, and chemicals. What is known is that if one of the brain’s chemical mixtures is off, the body sometimes reacts with a mental illness, but we don’t know why – yet.