Is Addiction a Mental Illness?
In the past, addiction to drugs or alcohol was viewed as a moral issue, one that a person either chose or didn’t and could stop at any time with enough willpower. In the last couple of decades, however, that view has been disproven. Researchers have shown through numerous studies that the brain is physically altered over time with drug use and that its activity changes perceptibly as demonstrated through brain scans taken of addicts prior to their addiction, at different points during active drug use, and in recovery. Addiction is clearly a medical illness that responds to medical treatment. But is it also a mental illness?
Recognizing Drug Addiction as a Mental Health Issue
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Nora Volkow, absolutely believes that addiction is a mental health issue as well as a medical disorder. Said Volkow: “We need to first recognize that drug addiction is a mental illness.”
The fact that addiction is a mental illness as well as a physical illness drives a large part of the treatment that is provided at intensive drug treatment programs. No programs – unless they are detox-specific – offer only detoxification services that address physical dependence and then shut the door. Every drug addiction treatment program offers therapeutic intervention and studies have shown that the longer the addicted person remains in treatment, the longer they will be able to sustain sobriety on their own when they return home. Time can help to alter the brain changes created by chronic drug abuse but only therapy will aid the patient in relapse prevention as they learn to find new ways to deal with issues that may trigger substance use in the future. This often means addressing mental health issues like:
- Stress and stress relief
- Anger and frustration
- Family issues
Dual Diagnosis: When Mental Health Disorders Co-Occur With Addiction
Often, a diagnosable mental health disorder separate from mental health struggles created by chronic drug abuse is an underlying issue for patients. In fact, about 50 percent of patients are also living with disorders like:
- Moderate to severe depression
- Bipolar disorder
- A personality disorder (e.g., borderline personality disorder, etc.)
- An eating disorder (e.g., anorexia nervosa, binge eating, etc.)
When this occurs, it is hugely important that both the issue of addiction and the mental health disorder are treated by specialists – at the same time. Attempting to treat first one issue and then the other is ineffective because the symptoms are often intertwined and the triggers for one disorder can trigger episodes of the other. The best possible care for the patient comes through an extensive treatment program that offers both mental health treatment specific to the disorder as well as treatment that speaks to the addiction issue.
If you or your loved one would benefit from a well-rounded treatment program that can address both addiction and mental health, contact us today at the phone number listed above.