Substance Abuse & Mental Health | ZwavelStream Clinic
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April 9, 2019
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April 15, 2019

Substance Abuse & Mental Health

Because the end of June marks SANCA’s Drug Awareness Week, we’ve decided to take a closer look at substance abuse in relation to mental health. In our post about dual diagnosis we explored how people suffering from a mental illness develops a substance abuse problem as a result of that mental health condition. Research suggest that pairing can be found between certain disorders and substances. For example, depression and alcoholism, or anxiety and opiates. The challenge with dual diagnosis is that it’s difficult to tell whether the mental condition came first and then led to substance abuse as a coping mechanism, or whether the abuse of substances brought on the onset of mental illness. This is because both are present by the time people seek help. So in this post we’d like to take that a bit further by considering whether the short- and long-term effects of drug abuse impacts the mind when no mental health condition is present.

The Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is known to have several negative long-term effects on the body as well as the mind. Problems with physical health include heart disease and liver damage, while mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are more likely to develop. One thing that’s certain, whether physical or mental, the effects of drug addiction takes years to recede, if at all.

Short term

  • Alcohol: slurred speech, coordination problems, impaired judgement, and mood swings.
  • Hallucinogens: hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, intense anxiety or depression, and impaired motor control.
  • Opiates: pinhole pupils, slurred speech, itchy skin, dysphoria, drowsiness, and vomiting.

    Long term

    On the body
  • Abuse of stimulants, like cocaine, can lead to heart disease and infections in the vessels of the heart.
  • Opiates aggravate asthma, while other drugs that are smoked can lead to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.
  • Heroin and opiates cause liver damage, and most drugs destroy the kidneys because of constant dehydration and increased body temperature.

    On the brain
  • Cognitive function is impaired and thinking becomes more difficult.
  • Memory and learning is affected, craving the drug is conditioned into brain.
  • Connections between neurons are modified in some places, and destroyed in others.
  • Brain cells are killed by drug toxicity.
  • The Indirect Consequences of Substance Abuse

    Taking the above into consideration, there is evidence to suggest that substance abuse can trigger mental health problems. And in cases where mental illness exists, addiction can worsen it. Research has shown that the most lasting consequences of addiction are depression and anxiety. Which brings us to the indirect effects of substance abuse – the impact it has on someone’s life, not because of the substances but because of how the addiction changes that person.

    Dr. Erwin Lass details the stages of addiction and recovery in his article about substance abuse. Here the importance of family support is underscored as vital to recovery. One of the main reasons for this, is that during the struggle with addiction the addict tends to make choices that are harmful or could even endanger their life. This then leads to the breakdown of relationships and leaves the addict isolated.

    Some repercussions of bad decisions include criminal behaviour, promiscuity and unprotected sex, financial instability, and relationship problems. Along with this, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold down a job or if the addict is younger, keep up at school. As a result, addicts find themselves jobless, out of school, with their whole lives falling apart around them. And this is why it’s so important to reach out if you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse. At ZwavelStream Clinic we have experts in the treatment and support for addiction, and the sooner you get in touch with us, the sooner you can get your life back on track.

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