Common Comorbidities With Substance Use Disorders

The Relationship Between Mental Illness And Substance Use Disorders


A lot of people who have SUD or substance use disorders also experience mental disorders and vice versa. There are population surveys that have shown how half the people with mental problems experience SUD and vice versa. Though there aren’t many studies about comorbidity among youth, there are still researches that show there are high rates of mental conditions co-occurring with SUD among adolescents. More than 60% of the adolescents in a community for SUD treatment program also show characteristic symptoms of a psychological dilemma.

SUD and anxiety disorders have high rates of comorbidity. There are also high chances of SUD to co-occur with mental illnesses like depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, psychotic illness, and antisocial personality disorder.

Schizophrenic patients also show higher rates of SUD regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs as opposed to the general population. People 18 and older are said to have a severe mental illness if they have a diagnosable mental and emotional disorder that has been interfering with their life activities for the past year.

There have been data of a sample that can be on national representative suggesting that those with behavior or emotional disorder have higher risks of using over-the-counter or prescribed opioids. About 43% in the SUD treatment for treating their use of painkillers for non-medication has depression and anxiety.

Youth—A Vulnerable Time


While drug use and addiction doesn’t choose any time of your life to happen, the former often starts during the teenage years where symptoms of mental illnesses also usually appear, which shows comorbid disorders happening among the youth. When they reach 18 to 25 years old, these people need support to handle stressful events like changes in education and work. “People often turn to drugs to feel better about what makes them sad, depressed, fearful, or angry,” says David Sack, M.D. “Therefore, as long as there are mental illnesses such as depression, and as long as kids are raised by drug and alcohol addicted parents, people will continue to self-medicate to relieve their pain, follow their role models, or both.”

Drug Use And Mental Health Disorders In Childhood Or Adolescence Increases Later Risk

During adolescence, the brain will still develop with parts or circuits that usually act for decision making and controlling impulses being the last to develop fully. This then makes the adolescent more vulnerable to using drugs and establishing a substance use disorder.

Drug use early in life is a strong risk factor that contributes later on to developing drug use disorders and possible, for other mental illnesses too later on. But this isn’t precisely causative as other risk factors contribute to this like their genes, psychosocial experiences, and the influence of their environment. If someone in their adolescence frequently uses marijuana, their risk of developing psychosis later on in adulthood increases especially for those who have a gene variant that makes them vulnerable to this. “Teens may be especially vulnerable, as their sensation-seeking and risk-taking tendencies collide with a still developing brain,” wrote Gail F. Melson, Ph.D. “Although alcohol and cigarette abuse is far more prevalent among teens, nearly half a million adolescents (467,000) reported using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, as of 2014.”


It can also go the other way around with people who have a mental illness in their adolescence having a higher risk of developing drug use and SUD later on in life. Researches are showing how mental health disorders precede SUD which means that addressing mental illness in youth can reduce comorbidity instead. Another found how adolescents with bipolar disorder have higher risks as compared to their adult counterpart. There are other suggestions of how internalization of diseases like depression happens and their link to developing SUD.

Untreated Childhood ADHD Can Increase Later Risk Of Drug Problems

There are also studies that show how there are high risks of developing SUD in youth who have untreated ADHD but other ones are saying how those who have comorbid conduct disorders can do this. “People with ADHD are more impulsive, making them more vulnerable to the temptation to use drugs. This temptation is typically greater among people with untreated ADHD,” Joel Young, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University wrote. Despite that, it still shows that it’s important to find out whether treating ADHD, which often consists of stimulants like amphetamine to control impulsive actions, can prevent drug use and addiction.

This then shows the challenge in treating those with ADHD since stimulant medications can be addictive. Fortunately, researches are suggesting that these medications don’t increase the risk of SUD in ADHD children. To get the best results, stimulant medication should be practiced along with behavioral interventions, education, and counseling on ADHD and substance use disorder.

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