For as long as most can remember, addiction is something that has always had a negative stigma associated with it. People who were hooked on heroin, meth, or even alcohol were viewed as being less-than. They were treated as if they chose the situation they found themselves in. Today, despite more research than ever before, some people still consider these things to be true about people addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, the difference between then and now is that we know addiction is not a choice. But, is addiction a mental health disorder?
Is Addiction a Mental Health Disorder?
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is defined as a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” The key word in that definition is disease, which indicates that addiction is not classified as a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression is. This can be extremely difficult to understand, as the actions of someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol can seem consistent with those of someone battling a mental health disorder. Some of these actions include:
- Continuing to use despite knowingly producing negative consequences
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when unable to use as normal
- Making attempts to stop using to no avail
- Suffering interpersonal, professional, and financial repercussions as a result of use
To the naked eye, it can seem like someone with an addiction is willingly staying addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, there is a lot more going on within the brain of an addict than what people can see. For example, someone who abuses drugs or alcohol is effectively rewiring their brain for the worse. The constant presence of mind-altering substances can do things such as change the shape and structure of the brain, leading to issues related to cognition, memory, problem-solving, and self-regulation. Diseases of all kinds, including cancer and diabetes, are characterized by their ability to create physical or structural dysfunction that leads to continued symptoms and additional health repercussions. Under this definition, addiction is no different.
Risk Factors for Addiction
People who experience mental health disorders like bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder are often asked about their family history. The vast majority of these individuals report that one or more people in their family have or had a mental health disorder. That is because genes play a large role in the development of certain mental health disorders. The same goes for addiction – when addiction occurs in a family, individuals have up to a 60% chance of also becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Family history of addiction is arguably the most prominent risk factor for developing this disease. Additional risk factors also include a past history of physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect, or domestic violence, to name a few. That is because addiction also almost always has an environmental component to it in conjunction with genetic factors.
The Connection Between Addiction and Mental Health Disorders
It is understandable, for many reasons, why addiction is often referred to as a mental health disorder. But, is addiction a mental health disorder? No, however that does not mean that it does not have close ties to mental illnesses.
Mental health disorders and the disease of addiction tend to go hand-in-hand. For some, addiction to drugs or alcohol begins before a mental illness sets in, while for others, it is the opposite. When an addiction and a mental illness are occurring at the same time, they feed off of each other in several negative ways, exacerbating the severity of both issues. Therefore, someone who is grappling with major depressive disorder may turn to the use of drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms. Or, someone who is addicted to meth may find themselves experiencing symptoms close to that of ADHD, where their energy is at an all-time high and they almost appear manic. When someone is experiencing both of these conditions at the same time, it is known as a dual diagnosis.
Thankfully, addiction and mental illnesses can be treated simultaneously. In previous years, providers would tell individuals to get sober first prior to looking to receive any mental health help. Today, however, it is widely known that treating a dual diagnosis requires tackling the issues related to both the mental health condition and the addiction together.
Even though mental health disorders and addiction are not classified in the same way, that does not mean that they don’t share similarities (as well as many differences). The most important thing anyone grappling with either condition can do is to reach out and ask for help.
Addiction Treatment in Tennessee
Being addicted to drugs or alcohol can feel like you are trapped on a never-ending roller coaster ride. At Arbor, we understand how upsetting that feeling is. We invite you to reach out to us as soon as possible to talk about your options for treatment. Our team of compassionate professionals will work with you to determine what level of care will best meet your needs.