A 2014 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that an estimated 20.2 million adults had a substance use disorder in the past year.
Of those 20.2 million, 7.9 million also had a mental health disorder along with their substance use disorder.
Also called a “co-occurring” mental and substance disorder, individuals struggling with mental health issues may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate.
“Co-occurring is substance use with a mental health disorder or a mental health issue and certainly people use drugs to escape reality and feel better and to reduce mental and emotional pain,” said Kelly Morehouse-Smith, vice president of clinical services at the Child and Family Center.
Morehouse-Smith said some individuals use drugs or alcohol to reduce the effects of their underlining conditions and to mask the symptoms of a mental health issue.
“If they’re depressed they’ll use something to lift their spirits or if they’re struggling with anxiety they’ll take something to calm them down,” she said.
Larry Schallert, assistant director of College of the Canyons’ (COC) Student Health and Wellness Center, said mental health problems are a major issue when it comes to drug abuse.
“We’re aware that a lot of people use drugs whether its opioids or stimulants or even cannabis as a way of helping them with their anxiety, their depression, traumas they have had or even their mental illness,” Schallert said. “There’s the occasional person where that’s not an issue, [but] the majority have some mental health issue going on.”
This temporary relief through substances can give users serious side effects including addiction, physical problems and new mental health issues, in addition to impacts on family life, social functions and school performance, according to Schallert.
Oftentimes individuals who are using do not realize they are using medications, drugs or other substances to help them with the mental health issues they’re struggling with.
“You’ll find people who you don’t know who have an underlining mental health condition but you find it when you undercover the substance abuse,” Morehouse-Smith said. “What you’ll see is someone who’s been using substances for a period of time and then you work with them you see the underlining mental health issue.”
To address the co-occurring disorders, Schallert recommends seeing a professional therapist who has expertise in mental health as well as substance abuse and addiction.
“We try to train therapists to know how to manage addiction and also how to manage the mental health issues,” he said. “When you talk about addiction you’re looking at physical dependence, cravings, motivation. You’re also looking at the mental health issues that precede the use of drugs and alcohol.”
Individuals can also turn to techniques like motivational interviewing or cognitive behavioral therapies to address substance abuse, according to Morehouse-Smith.
For those seeking mental health and/or addiction help, Schallert recommends visiting a private provider, local provider or recovery center including:
COC’s Student Health and Wellness Center
The Way Out Recovery Center
Action Family Counseling
SCV Child and Family Center
Santa Clarita Mental Health Center
Tarzana Treatment Centers