frustrated woman looking down and holding onto her head

5 Signs Your Addiction is a Symptom of a Psychological Problem


Sober Recovery Expert Author

frustrated woman looking down and holding onto her head

It’s not uncommon for substance abuse and mental health issues to occur at the same time. At many rehab facilities, treating co-occurring disorders is standard practice. However, in order to properly diagnose and treat a possible mental health problem, professionals do require a patient to be sober for a period of time so that his or her substance abuse isn’t an added factor. While getting to the real underlying issue may require medical help, there are some tell-tale signs that you can use to see if your substance abuse is really a symptom of a larger mental health issue.

1. You’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue prior to your substance use.

Many adult and adolescent substance abuse treatment patients have received prior diagnosis of one or more mental health problems. In many cases, recovery professionals are able to recognize if one’s existing substance abuse is a source of relief for a mental health issue, or if it’s contributing to the mental health problems. In rehab, the patients and professionals get the opportunity to take a step back, assess all possible issues and craft a long-term plan for treating all issues at hand.

Here are 5 tell-tale signs your substance abuse is really a symptom of a larger mental health issue.

2. There’s a history of mental health issues among your family members.

In many cases, a prior family history of mental health disorders, in which the hereditary component of many mental health issues comes into play, may suggest the presence of an existing, misdiagnosed mental health problem. However, most mental health disorders do not fully emerge until late adolescence and early adulthood, which is also the traditional age range in which most substance abuse can spiral into substance addiction. Many patients fail to recognize the onset of preexisting, but manageable mental health issues they may have, so they self-medicate as they rely on substance abuse for relief. At this point, medical professionals step in and are tasked with analyzing all of the patient’s psychological difficulties and making a distinctive diagnosis.

3. You increase your substance use after traumatic events.

Many fail to realize that substance use or abuse following a traumatic event may factor in to the emergence of a serious substance abuse problem. This pitfall often occurs in adults who, upon experiencing a single or series of traumatic events, develop some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, they fail to recognize the events as a possible cause of their increased substance use. During treatment, coping with these traumatic periods must occur alongside the patient’s acceptance and willingness to address their substance abuse patterns.

4. You’re dependent on your substance of choice for primarily psychological—rather than physical—reasons.

Most substance abusers have some degree of physical dependency on their substance of choice, but there are some who exhibit a stronger psychological dependence. When the patient experiences limited physical withdrawal symptoms, his or her compulsion to use substances is not driven by the need to stabilize a chemical dependency. Rather, the patient may be drinking or using to satisfy their psychological obsession and compulsion to alter their mood or state of mind. In such cases, the underlying cause may be an undiagnosed pre-existing mental health disorder or illness in the patient.

5. Your substance abuse issues started at a very young age.

Substance abuse in adolescents and young adults may indicate some degree of an underlying maladaptive thought and behavior patterns that originated outside of the substance use. In fact, it’s much more common in younger populations to mask serious mental health issues that the treatment process for this age group typically emphasizes behavioral modification on top of acute sobriety. Fortunately, the recovery space now offers programs that have a dual-diagnosis track for patients, in which substance abuse issues are addressed and stabilized, and then explores the patients’ individual psychological origin of substance abuse behaviors alongside recovery professionals.

Ultimately, proper diagnosis is the key to a patient’s lasting recovery. Without coinciding treatment for one’s substance abuse issues and underlying psychological issues, a patient is likely to face relapse and ongoing, if not worsening, mental health problems.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for both mental health and addiction, please visit our directory of dual diagnosis treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to start the path to recovery today.

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