Formerly known as addiction, substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental health condition describing an intense and escalating craving for a drug (e.g. marijuana, heroin, LSD) that produces feelings of pleasure or euphoria. The trouble with the disorder is that it can quickly grow completely out of control, affecting a person’s thought patterns and behavior and threatening their job, relationships, and even life.
SUDs are unfortunately common, with 1 in 7 Americans 12 and older affected, no matter their race, gender, income level, or social class. However, the condition is treatable, meaning that if you or someone you know is struggling through an SUD, you can get help.
At Primecare Family Practice in Arlington, Texas, board-certified family practitioners Maryline Ongangi, APRN, FNP-C and Lewis Nyantika, APRN, FNP-C, offer mental health services, including for substance use disorder. Here, they describe the dangers that come as a result of that disorder.
Data show SUDs have high rates of comorbid (occurring at the same time) mental health concerns such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Studies have also found people with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use disorders than the average person.
In no case do the data indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, but treating an SUD without appropriate attention to mental health can lead to a less than positive outcome.
So why do SUDs and mental health disorders occur comorbidly so frequently? Research indicates three possible reasons.
Both SUDs and other mental disorders can have an underlying genetic link, meaning they both run in families. Environmental factors like stress or trauma can trigger the gene’s expression, leading to the development of a mental health disorder or an SUD.
Studies found that people with a mental disorder can use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to rid themselves of bothersome symptoms. But while some drugs can temporarily improve some symptoms, they inevitably worsen those same symptoms over time while adding others to the mix.
In addition, the brain changes that occur in people with mental disorders can “enhance” the substance’s reward, at least in the short-term. This makes it more likely the person will continue to use the substance, though with escalating doses.
Substance use can trigger brain changes that make the person prone to the development of a mental disorder.
The brain changes SUD causes last long after the immediate intoxicating effects of the substance wears off. Intoxication is the general category of intense pleasure, euphoria, calm, increased sensory perception, and/or hallucinations a substance creates. Intoxication symptoms are different for each type or form of substance.
Those changes are not only responsible for the intense cravings for the drug, but for the painful withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug as well. Brain imaging studies also display changes in the brain areas that relate to personality, movement, judgment, decision making, behavioral control, learning, and memory. If you stay on the drug long enough, every aspect of your life can become compromised.
Treating SUD usually involves a “detox” period, where you withdraw from the drug quickly in a supervised setting, followed by a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, where you learn to address problems in new and more helpful ways, and medications that ease the withdrawal symptoms and help comorbid mental disorders.
If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, Primecare Family Practice can help. To get started, call us at 817-873-3710, or book online with us today.