While many people in the United States understand that addiction has become a serious problem in our country and  of the country are working toward changing their perspectives on mental illnesses because they exist so often here as well, many do not realize that there is a serious link between mental health and addictions. Detox.com’s new study delves deeper into helping more people recognize and understand this connection.

When someone has both a substance use disorder and an addiction, it is called dual diagnosis, comorbidity, or co-occurring disorders. This is a serious problem that occurs more than most people realize. In fact, 8.2 million Americans suffered from dual diagnosis in 2016, which was a 3.7 percent increase from the year 2014. Dual diagnosis is so widespread partly because both disorders that cause it are becoming more and more common every year and because both these issues can cause one another to occur.

For example, 50 percent of those who suffer from a serious mental illness are also suffering from a substance use disorder. Serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar, and others that cause a person to have a hard time living their day to day life with their disorder. In turn, substance use disorders can be caused by any form of addictive substance, including prescription opioids, street drugs, and alcohol. Also, 37 percent of individuals who misuse alcohol and 53 percent of those who abuse drugs suffer from one (if not more) serious mental illness.

Mental illnesses and addictions often go hand-in-hand because of the nature of both disorders. They are both highly psychological and behavioral, and one can easily spring from the issues caused by the other. For example, someone who has depression may try to mask their illness with stimulants to feel good while someone else with anxiety problems may smoke marijuana so they can be more comfortable in social settings. On the other end of the spectrum, people who start taking drugs and don’t suffer from any illnesses at first can experience them as a result of their substance abuse. Just like abusing opioids can cause respiratory depression and gastrointestinal problems, it can create anxiety, depression, and over time, a full-blown mental illness.

Another important thing to remember is that both these issues can begin to occur when a person is young. This is when an individual is most susceptible to the changes drug abuse will cause to their brain. Many times, a person who started using drugs at a young age and also has a mental illness will have trouble determining which one came first.

There is a serious link between mental disorders and addiction, which is why, when these two disorders occur together, they must be treated simultaneously. Often, people believe they will not be able to afford treatment for dual diagnosis, but there are many programs that offer low-cost, sliding-fee scale, and even free treatment for those most in need of professional care.