The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that about one in six adults in the United States have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.1 There is a known connection between a mental illness and substance abuse. As a result, many treatment programs for addiction provide routine screenings for mental illness, just to ensure that administrators are aware of all the issues that might impact recovery.

However, there are times when people have a specific mental health issue without receiving a full mental health disorder diagnosis. Without mental health support, these individuals often use addictive substances to help them cope. And, whenever this happens, the risk increases for many serious health issues.

Transient Trouble

Bearded man deep in thoughtSome mental health difficulties emerge suddenly, like when someone close passes away due to an accident or illness. Feelings of grief are considered normal during this process. However, there are some other common changes after the lose of a loved one.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweeping feelings of anger
  • Nightmares or vivid dreams
  • Social withdrawal

It’s easy to see how substance abuse can be tempting in times of grief. Sedating substances could allow a person to sleep better and forget about the loss for a few hours. Stimulant drugs, on the other hand, might allow people to zoom through work tasks with ease, rather than feeling slow and sluggish. Some grieving individuals find that drugs help them to cope. However, drugs have the potential to bring about chemical changes that lead to compulsive use or addiction.

Many drugs boost the production of chemicals the brain uses during moments of pleasure. The individual then feels intense joy, but it comes with deep consequences. Over time, the brain stops responding to low doses of the drug, and the brain may stop producing chemicals at all unless the drugs are present. Even moderate grief can explode into deep feelings of sadness or depression when drugs are present.

Coping with Distress

Handling grief and loss can be difficult. Research shows that substance abuse is a risk factor for severe domestic violence.2 Those who abuse drugs may be more likely to lash out with physical expressions of anger. This could lead the sense of depression and loss to deepen.

Domestic abuse struggles tend to grow more intense over time. Even death is possible. In addition, children may witness the episodes and become traumatized. If both parties are sober, they might be able to come to some sort of understanding, or they might choose to separate for the sake of everyone involved.

Life Status Changes

Even lives that seem calm and without traumatic episodes can be filled with transition points that put a person under stress. Some common life changes include:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Childbirth
  • Children leaving home
  • Career change
  • Retirement

These times of transition can make people can feel adrift and unsure of what the future might bring. These times may bring with them feelings of depression or anxiety. Substance abuse can become a crutch that is used to get through this time, suppressing unhappy feelings. Sadly, when the person is sober, all of that work remains to be done, and depression often worsens over time.

Helpful Options

The good news is that anyone with a new mental health issue, who is also abusing drugs, might be able to reverse the damage before addiction starts. These individuals can often benefit from a brief intervention for addiction performed by a doctor or a mental health specialist. Only one, two or three sessions might be included in this model.

Essentially, the person is exposed to the idea that substance abuse could be worsening a mental health issue. Brief interventions are not intended for individuals with serious substance dependence. Rather these forms of treatment help individuals involved in problematic or risky substance use.3

This kind of help is right for some people, but others need more help to deal with a mental health and substance abuse issue. They might find it hard to get sober after a brief intervention, or their sobriety might be continually compromised by the life stresses they don’t yet know how to handle. People like this might benefit from more comprehensive care. Enrolling in a residential program that can handle both mental illness and addiction can provide these people with the space and help they’ll need to heal on a deeper level.

“Today I am a recovering addict with six years clean, writes Kirk C. at Heroes In Recovery, “and I am happy with the way I feel. My life is filled with freedom and joy. I am thankful for my past because, without it, I would not be where I am today. I thank God for working the miracle to change my life around.”

If you or someone you love needs help with a drug problem, Black Bear Lodge is ready to help you turn your life around. We offer a program known as a Dual Diagnosis treatment program. This means Black Bear Lodge is capable of addressing both mental illness and addiction. Our therapists can develop treatment plans that are sensitive to the complicated life histories of people with co-occurring disorders. We even incorporate alternative therapies like exercise and yoga into our customized healing plans. It’s a robust program of help, and we’d like to tell you about it. Please call us at 706-914-2327 to find out more.

1Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health. November 2017.

2Fact Sheet: Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence.” Center for Court Innovation. Accessed 12 February 2018.

3SBIRT: Brief Intervention.” SAMSHA. Accessed 12 February 2018.