Medical Health and Substance Use

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Substance use has increased significantly over the past several decades. Users may even be growing younger and becoming addicted to substances more quickly. Part of this is likely due to the substances themselves, and the increasing incidence of addictive ingredients or formulas, but there have been those who suggest that mental health is a large part of the equation. Whether mental health concerns are present when substance use is at play or not, there are ways to minimize the risk of experiencing substance use and subsequent dependence. 

Are Mental Health and Substance Use Linked? 

The links between mental health and substance use are widely debated, with some suggesting a causal relationship, and others suggesting something more along the lines of an increased susceptibility rather than a direct link. To most effectively understand the potential link between substance use and mental health, think of it this way: a healthy brain will not typically seek out the highs that occur with most substances. Those that do may not be at increased risk of continuing to use substances, rather than dabbling in occasional use. While it is true that drugs respond in fairly predictable ways to people’s differing anatomy, the answer to those responses may vary. 

Let’s take, for instance, an individual who has long exhibited symptoms of depression. The high that occurs with substance use can help that person feel for a moment, rather than living in a constant state of apathy or experiencing persistent anhedonia. These individuals may be more likely to continually seek out that high, while someone whose dopamine and serotonin levels are at optimal levels might not experience the same degree of craving or desire that occurs in an individual with depression. 

Is There a Way to Minimize Risk? 

While there may not be a definitive means to eradicate risk altogether, there are ways to minimize the risk of substance use, even in the face of mental health that is not at its peak, or is currently experiencing symptoms of decline. The most effective ways to minimize risk include: 

  • Maintain your mental health. Mental health is not stagnant. It can increase or decrease according to countless factors, including genetics, lifestyle factors, habits, and circumstance. Maintaining your mental health can mean making sure that you are consistently taking your medication. It can also mean engaging in regular therapy sessions. For some, it can mean intensive therapy and a more significant medication regimen. 
  • Engage in other stimulating activities. Part of the appeal of substance use is the mitigation of symptoms related to declining mental health. Finding other activities or items to enjoy can help minimize risk, as well. Eating rich, whole foods, engaging in regular exercise that releases endorphins, and finding a hobby can all help. Hobbies with a greater level of risk, such as extreme sports, may be particularly appealing to those with existing mental disorders or conditions. 

Managing Mental Health and Preventing Substance Use

While it may not be the case that anyone who has a mental disorder or condition is immediately prone to substance use, there are certain mental health disorders and conditions that can make your risk of substance use significantly higher. There is a disorder in particular that specifically addresses the uncontrolled use of substances, further cementing a relationship between mental health and substance use. Articles regarding substance use and mental health often focus on the causal relationships between the two, but because there is not yet a certainty as to whether the proverbial chicken or egg came first, it is important to regard both as possible triggers for the other, and manage the risks associated with each.