Published On: Fri, Sep 30th, 2016

A Vicious Cycle: Why It’s Utterly Important to Assess Behavioral Health as Part of Addiction Treatment

An essential aspect of recovery is the diagnosis of any behavioral or mental health issues the patient have.  Depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADD, or another disorder is present in most people who show signs of alcoholism or drug addiction.  Rarely is it clear which came first, whether the mental disease caused the addiction or if the addiction caused the behavioral health issues, but what is known is it’s impossible to successfully treat either one independently but instead both have to be addressed simultaneously.

The Contribution of Behavioral Health toward Addiction

Behavioral health contributes to alcoholism because the patient is self-medicating about an illness they aren’t even aware they have other than a fleeting sense of not being what is considered “normal” in many social circles.  A person who is socially awkward and depressed, for example, may be able to elevate their mood and lift their social skills artificially through the use of drugs and alcohol.  Other people may be able to finally go to sleep or find the energy to approach the day with drug use.  Part of a successful treatment plan is to find reasonable and healthy solutions to behavioral health issues to remove what is at least a partial cause of the addiction itself.

Jared Cano posted photos of himself smoking pot photo/Facebook

Jared Cano posted photos of himself smoking pot photo/Facebook

How Addiction Contributes to Behavioral Health Problems

Addiction, in turn, exacerbates the ongoing mental health disease in the patient.  Drug addiction always leads to depression, generally through financial issues and problems with family or at work.  Even when such problems don’t come up, the hangovers and withdrawal symptoms cause anxiety and nervousness.  Back to the previous example of a socially awkward person, drug abuse often leads to becoming more withdrawn as the addiction demands more of the patient’s time and they prefer to spend time with the drug instead of with friends.  Typically, the mental health diagnosis cannot be truly made while the patient is suffering from addiction because the extent to which the patient suffers from the mental illness and to what degree the addiction contributes to the disorder cannot be correctly determined.

Ending the Cycle

Ending the cycle of addiction and mental disease can be tricky at best.  When treating only the mental disease, the addiction is still there, counteracting the treatment for the mental illness.  Further, the medications prescribed for the mental disease often can contribute to the drug addiction problems.  On the other hand, treating only the addiction will certainly lead to relapse because the root causes of the addiction remain intact and the patient has no other option to relieve themselves than to resort to drug or alcohol use.  There can’t be successful treatment of either problem without addressing the issues caused by both problems.

The Importance of Immediate and Ongoing Treatment

The immediate treatment is to begin a detox program so the patient can return to a sober worldview and begin to address the problems caused by their addiction.  The extent of detox required may depend on the types of substances abused and the level of addiction the patient suffers from.  During and immediately after the detox process mental health professionals can begin to diagnose underlying health issues and begin to form a long term plan of ongoing treatment so the patient can remain sober while addressing the symptoms of their mental health with healthy and practical solutions.


Because mental health and addiction feed each other, it is essential for a professional mental health and addiction specialist to help in recovery.  Their knowledge and experience allow them to address the problems with an understanding of how each affects the other so the patient can return to a productive, fulfilling life.

Author: Joyce Kim

photo Emuishere Pelicula via Flickr

photo Emuishere Pelicula via Flickr

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