Drugs and mental health issues: a chicken and egg question?

Having a drug habit can cause a lot of negative or unwanted changes in people’s lives. A few of them are listed below:

  • becoming less motivated
  • becoming irritable
  • becoming anxious
  • becoming aggressive
  • not getting along with people
  • not having enough money
  • getting kicked out of home
  • getting in trouble with the law
  • losing weight
  • gaining weight
  • developing physical health problems
  • having accidents

You may notice that a lot of these things can also be signs of a mental health diagnosis, or even side effects of medication (eg. gaining weight). This leads to an important question: what comes first, the mental health issues or the drug issues?

According to SANE Australia, ‘it can be hard to tell.’ That is about as helpful an answer as you will get.

Most people assume that there is a distinction between a disease and an addiction. Not so Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They promote a ‘disease model’ of addiction. They see alcoholism or heroin addiction as a disease in itself, the only remedy for which is abstinence.

The term ‘drug induced psychosis,’ according to SANE refers to a condition which lasts a few days after taking drugs. However, you will meet people who have experienced mental health issues for years who will refer to it as ‘drug induced psychosis.’ Perhaps taking drugs triggered problems that might otherwise not have occurred.

So there is a lot of speculation in this field, and experts disagree among themselves. One thing is certain, though, from looking at the list above: If this is happening to you and you think it might be related to drugs, then the drugs are not doing you any good.

Self Medicating

Some people speak about ‘self-medicating’ where a person takes drugs in order to feel better. For example a person who is extremely anxious might take a particular drug that makes them feel less anxious. If this becomes a habit, the original intention is thwarted. For example, alcohol in small doses will temporarily reduce anxiety, however addiction to alcohol can ruin your entire life.

The problem here is that self medication merely masks the negative feelings. It does not solve the problems that are causing the feelings in the first place.

Prescription Medication

All medicines have side effects and interactions. Some mild side effects might affect everyone who takes a particular medicine. Some severe side effects might effect a only few people.

For example some drugs that reduce painful inflammation might also cause bleeding of the stomach in some people. A doctor might look for an alternative way to help the patient with pain if that is the case.

Benzodiazepines are drugs which some doctors once commonly prescribed to reduce anxiety. If over prescribed they are extremely addictive and people can end up in hospital trying to ‘dry out’ from them. Nowadays, some medical centres have signs in the reception room saying that their doctors will not prescribe such ‘drugs of addiction’.

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