Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness essay

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Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is characterized by use of drugs or other harmful substances without the supervision or approval of medical professionals. More often than not, abuse of substances such as narcotics, stimulants and hallucinogens among others, leads to negative consequences. Swendsen et al. (2012) affirms that substance and drug abuse is one of the major societal issues affecting many people, especially adolescents with disastrous consequences. When abused, some substances end up affecting the mind to the point of resulting into form of mental illness. In relation to this, mental health professionals have a manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which groups mental health disorders into five main dimensions. These include Axis I to V, clinical syndromes, developmental and personality disorders, physical conditions, effect and severity of Psychosocial Stressors and measurement of one’s Highest Level of Functioning. Substance use disorders include syndromes and disorders that involve drug dependence, as well as substance abuse. This paper discusses substance abuse and how it is connected to various forms of mental illnesses as it affects the body, as well as the brain and mind, leading to various mental illnesses.

Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness

Personality disorders depict mental conditions that alter a person’s personality in a manner that individuals are unable to live in a society. In this case, an individual’s behaviors, thoughts and even emotions, are quite different from their culture's expectations, causing numerous problems related to work and relationships. The link between substance abuse and personality disorders is exemplified by various effects that substance abuse has on the body but more so, the mind. Ingestion of various substances, especially stimulants and hallucinogens, alter one’s state of mind, leading to maladjustment problems in society, especially when the drugs are continuously taken for a long time. As the drug user gets addicted to the drugs, his/her personality continues to shift from positive behaviors to negative behaviors, thoughts and emotions, and eventual permanence. Personality disorders are associated with substance abuse, disability, self-injurious behavior, suicide attempts, crime, assaults, underachievement and institutionalization among others (Simonsen, Ronningstam & Millon, 2008). Other mental conditions such as anxiety, psychosis, depression and even delayed recovery from Axis I conditions and medical illnesses, are also identified with personality disorders. This highlights the link between mental illnesses, personality disorders and substance abuse and their intricate relationship with each other, where one influences the other.    

Post-traumatic stress disorders are characterized by severe anxiety, which develops after individuals experience psychological trauma from various traumatic events. These disorders lead to increased arousal such as angry outbursts among other symptoms, which, if they last longer than a month, are said to affect one’s functionality. This lack of functionality depicts a situation where one is unable to exercise his/her mental faculties effectively in various important areas of one’s life. Witnessing, as well as experiencing assault, whether sexual or physical, as well as various illnesses and drug addiction may trigger the onset of posttraumatic disorders. The study by Papastavrou et al. (2011) found out that the severity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was related to Substance Use Disorders (SUD) as well as the severity of drug addiction. Over 40 percent of the subjects, who were drug dependent in the study, were found to have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, which further revealed that over 70% of these individuals had a seriously impaired level of functioning. Even though, the authors’ found a high correlation between PTSD and substance use disorders, they concluded that further investigation would be useful in determining which of the disorders preceded the other (Papastavrou et al., 2011). This demonstrates the link between mental illnesses and substance abuse even though sometimes causes may be unclear.

The young generation is considered as the future of mankind in a continuously changing modern world where the future is quite uncertain, considering negative elements such as crime and illnesses that abound. This accentuates the sorrow felt when children and adolescents are diagnosed with mental related illnesses or conditions such as Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is neurobehavioral disorder characterized by impulsivity, inattentiveness and over-activity, or a combination of these factors, mostly found in children and adolescents. A multitude of symptoms are associated with ADHD including high susceptibility to distraction, impatience and not heeding rules and regulations, which may culminate into depression, learning disabilities and reduced functionality in social situations. In relation to this, study by Wilens et al. (2011) found attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) to be a significant predictor of any substance-use related disorders as well as cigarette smoking. The study highlights the potent link between mental-related conditions and substance abuse, a link that creates ground for more substance use. The study concluded that ADHD is a significant risk factor for the development of substance use disorders as well as cigarette smoking in both sexes (Wilens et al., 2011).

The close connection between mental illnesses and substance use disorders is highlighted by the differences between researchers and professionals in the field of mental health regarding diagnosis of bipolar disorders and substance use co-morbidities. Fundamentally, bipolar disorders are mood disorders, which are exhibited as frenzied mental states that alternate between mania and depressive episodes.  Also known as manic-depressive disorders, bipolar disorders can affect any person, who end up exhibiting symptoms such as impulsive and erratic behavior, as well as sleep difficulties, culminating into psychotic behavior, especially aggression and violence. Mental health professionals acknowledge that substance abuse can produce symptoms that may be similar to other varied psychiatric disorders and, therefore, the almost similar diagnosis. The study by Theodore, Basco & Biggan (2012) found that the presence of a substance abuse co-morbidity, the polarity of the last episode (whether manic or depressed) and the total number of co-morbidities affected the reliability of a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Bipolar disorder symptoms such as rapid speech, elevated mood, participation in high-risk behaviors and agitation were found to be associated with a multitude of varied psychiatric disorders including severe personality disorders, serious depressive disorder and schizophrenia, as well as substance use disorders. This conclusively highlights the link between mental related illnesses and conditions and substance use disorders.

The DSM-IV lists various substance use disorders in categories including amphetamine-related disorders, cannabis and cocaine-related disorders, hallucinogen and inhalant-related disorders as well as alcohol and caffeine-related disorders. Others include nicotine and opioid-related disorders, phencyclidine and sedative-related disorders as well as anxiolytic/hypnotic-related disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Dimeff & Linehan (2008) identify individuals with multiple and severe psychosocial disorders as chronically suicidal and assert that most individuals with these disorders also have substance use disorders. Psychosocial disorders are defined as mental illnesses that are influenced or caused by maladjusted cognitive and behavioral processes, as well as various life experiences. Psychosocial disorders and their predisposing factors and symptoms traverse a variety of mental-related disorders including anxiety and psychotic disorders among others. Substance use disorders including alcohol and drug use and abuse, withdrawal, as well as dependence, are also identified as some of the causes of psychosocial disorders (Dimeff & Linehan, 2008). This shows the link between mental illnesses and substance use disorders.


Substance abuse is associated with lots of negative consequences including school or work-related, interpersonal as well as economic problems, which end up ruining one’s life due to diminished functionality in almost all vital areas of life. Substance use disorders refer to an umbrella term that defines syndromes and disorders that involve drug dependence, as well as substance abuse. It is evident that various forms of mental illnesses are positively associated with substance use disorders as substance abuse affects the body, as well as the brain and the mind. For instance, personality disorders are associated with substance abuse, self-injurious behavior and suicide attempts as well as other mental-related conditions including psychosis and depression. High correlation between post-traumatic stress disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, as well as psychosocial disorders and substance use disorders, also demonstrates the link between mental illnesses and substance abuse even though sometimes the causes may be unclear. In conclusion, it is evident that there is a link between mental illnesses and substance use disorders especially when mental health professionals and researchers acknowledge that mental-related illnesses such as bipolar disorders may be misdiagnosed as substance use disorders. 

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