Co-occurring mental health and alcohol and other drug problems are common among people attending both treatment services.
There are a number of ways in which alcohol and other drug problems intersect with other mental health disorders, primarily:
- The use of drugs may change the structure and function of the brain that leads to symptoms of other mental health disorders. For example, neuroscience studies have shown that long term methamphetamine use depletes the dopamine and serotonin systems, both required for the regulation of mood, potentially leading to symptoms of depression.
- Alcohol and other drugs may be used to relieve distress of mental health symptoms, sometimes referred to as ‘self medication’
- Comorbidity may emerge from shared genetic or socio-economic predisposing factors, such as poverty or trauma.
The presence of more than one disorder can complicate treatment significantly. There is evidence that relapse from one disorder can trigger relapse from the other so there is general agreement among professionals that both disorders need to be addressed.
So it is critical that treatment providers outside the specialist alcohol and other drug sector are well trained in assessment, brief intervention and effective referral of alcohol and other drug problems.
But it also means that if alcohol and other drug workers just provide good drug treatment, many of the mental health issues of our clients will reduce to more manageable levels.
Professor Nicole Lee is 360Edge’s Director and an international leader on alcohol and drug policy and practice.
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