Is Chemical Dependency a Mental Illness?

treatment center for mental illness

If you or someone close to you suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, you may not be surprised to learn that chemical dependency and mental illness go hand in hand. Drug addiction causes significant mental, emotional, and behavioral changes that sometimes make our loved ones (or ourselves) almost completely unrecognizable. The very same can be said for mental illness.  So is chemical dependency a mental illness? The short answer: Yes. But there’s more to it. Read on to learn more. 

What is mental illness?

Mental health plays an important role in communication, relationships, self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, and many other aspects of life. Mental wellbeing is defined by effective functioning in daily activities such as work, school, hygiene, and self-care. Some signs of mental wellbeing include healthy relationships, adaptability to change, self-control, vitality, commitment to truth, and active engagement.  

Mental illness, on the other hand, refers collectively to disorders that affect mood, thought, and behavior. These disorders are real health conditions that can be compared to conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Signs of mental illness may include withdrawal from social activity, drop in functioning, feelings of disconnection, sudden or frequent mood changes, problems with concentration, and sleep or appetite changes. Mental illness spans a wide range of disorders, from mild to severe, and may develop as a result of genetics, environment, and lifestyle. 

What is chemical dependency?

The term chemical dependency can be defined as the stage of substance abuse in which an individual loses control over his or her use of drugs or alcohol.  Most people who use drugs or alcohol begin socially and infrequently.  They may then move on to more regular use, building tolerance, becoming preoccupied with the substance, and prioritizing it over relationships and productive or other healthy and pleasurable activities. At this point, chemical dependency is likely to occur. Signs of chemical dependency include withdrawal from social activity, deterioration of work or school performance, feelings of depression or suicide, risky behaviors while under the influence, damage to close relationships, and strong cravings when the drug or alcohol is not available. In other words, chemical dependency refers to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 

Mental illness and chemical dependency go hand in hand

If we look at the definition of mental illness as a disorder that affects mood, thought, and behavior, then there’s no denying that chemical dependency is a mental illness. It most certainly does affect the drug or alcohol user’s mood, thoughts, and behaviors. But the relationship between chemical dependency and mental illness is even more complex than that. Drug use disorders often go hand in hand with other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Many times, drug or alcohol addiction and mental illness are both caused by genetics, trauma, or other overlapping factors. Other times, drug use begins as a coping mechanism for symptoms of an untreated mental illness. And conversely, drug abuse can create problems that trigger mental health issues. Regardless of how the dual diagnosis develops, both conditions must be treated if the individual is to achieve optimal mental health. 

Dual diagnosis treatment is crucial

When a person seeks treatment for chemical dependency or drug addiction, it’s not uncommon to discover that they have another mental health disorder that has been masked by the use of drugs or alcohol. For someone who suffers from both chemical dependency and another mental illness, treating only the addiction will result in a high likelihood of relapse. Unless both conditions are treated, long-term sobriety will remain elusive. A treatment center that specializes in treating addiction disorders as well as a range of mental health conditions offers the best option for helping a dual diagnosis patient to live their best life. 

Quality dual diagnosis and chemical dependency treatment in San Diego

If you or a loved one is suffering from chemical dependency, mental illness, or both, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help. Our dual diagnosis treatment programs address drug and alcohol abuse disorders as well as underlying mental illnesses. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs founded on modes of therapy that are designed to help patients manage their symptoms, develop healthier thought and behavior patterns, and learn to live an engaged, sober lifestyle. For more information about any of our programs or services, contact us via the form on our website, or call our crisis line at 619-667-6125 to get started today.