Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services

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Substance abuse and mental health problems are both common. They also often occur together in the same individual and although there is a greater likelihood of an individual indulging in substance abuse when a mental health problem is present, they are actually two separate problems with different forms of treatment. So why is there a high correlation between substance abuse and mental health problems?

The question is not an easy one to answer. Sometimes an individual with a mental health problem will resort to taking drugs or alcohol in order to alleviate their symptoms, a practice known as self medicating. This seems to be more common with mental health problems such as depression, anti-social personality disorder, bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia.

Sometimes when a young person starts taking drugs family and friends will notice a change in mood or personality and associate the changes with the drugs whereas there’s always the possibility that the individual started to take the drugs in the first place as a result of an underlying mood disorder.

On the other hand people who indulge in substance or alcohol abuse can sometimes actually develop a mental health problem as a result of drug taking, particularly if the drugs they are taking influence serotonin function in the brain. There is also evidence to suggest that males in particular, have a much higher risk of developing schizophrenia if they smoke cannabis in their teens.

Also of course we have are some individuals who take drugs but who do not have a mental health problem and they require specialist treatment from professionals experienced in drug abuse. There are also people with mental health problems who do not take drugs and only require the expertise of professionals qualified in mental health.

When people are suffering from both a substance abuse problem and a mental health problem at the same time, professionals in mental health services dealing with mental health problems refer to it as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder.

As far as mental health services are concerned, the main problem is how to treat individuals with a dual diagnosis as currently each “problem” is dealt with separately, by different professionals in different treatment settings so that the individual can find themselves sent back and forth between each clinic. This is not ideal.

Currently researchers and mental health professionals are looking at how these two separate problems can be dealt with together using a more holistic approach and of course whether this would lead to faster and more effective recovery. Results of some studies have shown that if mental illness and substance abuse are treated together at the same time then the number of psychotic episodes reduces and the risk of suicide is decreased.

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