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How Do Drugs Affect Your Mental Health?

Prescription and illicit drugs have numerous effects on a person’s brain and can be divided into two broad categories: stimulant and depressant drugs. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are widely used depressant drugs that have a sedative or relaxing effect.

Cocaine, crystal meth, MDMA, and prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin, on the other hand, are stimulant drugs that give users a “high” or rush of energy. Stimulant and depressant drugs each affect the brain’s reward pathways and activity of important neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating a person’s mood, which can lead to moderate to severe mental health issues. 

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    Recent studies show that about 50% of people with substance use disorders also struggle with mental health issues, indicating a strong connection between the two. Mental illness tends to come with social stigmas, which may be part of why substance abuse has been previously discussed as a separate issue. 

    Substance use is a form of emotional self-regulation, which can provide people with immediate relief from stress, fear, and other forms of emotional discomfort. This relief comes at a price, as substance abuse harms the body and can trigger or amplify mental health issues including severe depression, memory loss, psychosis, and schizophrenia. 

    How Illicit Drugs Affect the Brain

    Illicit drugs are heavily regulated because they are dangerous substances with a high potential for abuse. Opioids like heroin and fentanyl, for example, are extremely addictive substances that provide users with a powerful high by triggering a big release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and hormones.

    Repeated use will create tolerance for the drug, which means that the user will need to take higher doses to feel similar feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Other illicit drugs such as hallucinogens have dissociative effects and can cause permanent psychosis. 

    What Comes First? Addiction Or Mental Health Disorders?

    It depends on the individual, and even then, mental health is a complex, multi-faceted issue that scientists are still investigating. People may have genetic predispositions to certain mental health issues that can be triggered by taking certain substances, even if they have never previously experienced any symptoms of mental illness. People with existing mental health issues are more vulnerable to addiction, especially if they are struggling to self-regulate and don’t have a strong support system or access to therapy. 

    Mental Health Disorders That Commonly Lead To Addiction

    Depression, schizophrenia,  anxiety disorders, and personality disorders are the most common mental health disorders that lead to substance abuse problems. People with social anxiety, for example, may initially begin drinking alcohol as a way to relax and feel less self-conscious. Depression makes it difficult for many people to engage with everyday life at optimum levels to begin with, which makes it even more likely that some will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. 

    Which mental health disorders are connected to alcohol use disorder(AUD)?

    Anxiety disorders and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are strongly connected to alcohol use disorder. People with a history of trauma are also more likely to abuse alcohol, while people who abuse alcohol are making themselves more vulnerable to stress and negative mental health outcomes. 

    Does cannabis cause mental illness?

    It can. Smoking marijuana is linked to psychosis, memory loss, depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders. People with certain gene variations are more likely to experience mental health issues as a result of smoking marijuana, and the risk of triggering a psychotic episode increases depending on a number of factors, including how often you use. 

    Do drugs always affect mental health?

    Drug and alcohol use affects people’s brain chemistry, no matter what. Substance use does not always cause mental illness, but substance abuse disorders almost always negatively impact people’s mental health. It's simply a question of whether or not their symptoms are just temporary or severe enough to warrant a mental health diagnosis. 

    Treatment For Drug Addiction And Mental Health

    Drug addiction and mental health disorders require professional treatment, and many people can benefit from treatment in an in-patient setting. Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication-assisted treatment, and alternative therapies are often successfully used to treat substance use disorders and mental health issues. 

    How We Can Help

    At Magnified Health Systems, your healing is our passion. We offer several levels of care including in-patient treatment and partial hospitalization treatment programs, as well as dual diagnosis treatment and medically assisted detox.

    Each member of our team has direct experience with trauma, substance abuse, and mental health diagnoses, which gives them greater empathy for and understanding of what you may be going through. We believe in your ability to make a change and all of us at Magnified Health Systems are here to help you live your best life. We have multiple locations and make it easy to get started – contact us today. 

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    Medical Advice Disclaimer

    Magnified Health Systems aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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