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Mental Health and Substance Use: What's the deal?

Mental health and substance use are closely intertwined. Like branches of a gnarled tree, they pull on each other--especially when storms hit. But why? It is clear that people who struggle with mental health issues are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders, and those who engage in substance use may experience negative impacts on their mental health. Again, but why?

The relationship between mental health and substance use is complex and can vary from person to person. For some individuals, substance use may be a coping mechanism, or self-medicating, for managing symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No one likes to feel the pain of these things, and substances prevent a person from experiencing these symptoms...for a time. The truth is that while substance use may provide temporary relief, it often exacerbates the underlying mental health issues and can lead to addiction--something new to attempt to deal with or be dependent on by the person already struggling.

Then there's the other side...substance use can contribute to the development of mental health disorders. For example, heavy alcohol or drug use can cause changes in brain chemistry that lead to depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions--developing all of the things someone else might use substances to try to hide from. The truth is, that for the person trying to alleviate mental health symptoms through substance use or the one developing mental health issues by using substances, substance use can make it more difficult to manage existing mental health issues, leading to a cycle of addiction and worsening mental health.

It's important to note that not everyone who struggles with mental health issues will develop a substance use disorder, and not everyone who engages in substance use will experience severe negative impacts on their mental health. However, understanding the connection between mental health and substance use is crucial for effective treatment and support.

Treatment for mental health and substance use disorders often involves an integrated approach that addresses both issues simultaneously. This often involves individual therapy that focuses on Motivational Interviewing, CBT skills, DBT skills, and Logotherapy. At times, medication may be used to reduce cravings for things like opiates while a person receives therapy. Across the world, support groups such as 12-Step Programs (AA, NA, CR) have helped millions of people find the support they need outside of the therapy room as well. Both the mental health component and the substance abuse issues need to be treated simultaneously to achieve the best results.

As with the entwined tree branches in a storm, the connection between mental health and substance use is complex and multifaceted. While substance use may provide temporary relief for some individuals struggling with mental health issues, it often exacerbates underlying problems and can lead to addiction. By understanding the link between mental health and substance use, individuals and healthcare professionals can work together to develop effective treatment and support strategies.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help or looking to talk about options for their mental health and substance use issues, please reach out to The King's Forge Counseling by submitting a contact form on our website:

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