When you put drugs or alcohol into your body, by whatever means, they eventually entered your bloodstream. They entered your brain and affected how you felt. That’s why you took the drug. The reason why most drugs work is that they imitate the naturally occurring substances that the brain produces. These natural substances produce the feelings of well-being, relaxation, pleasure, excitement, pain or a state of alertness or drowsiness. For example, heroin works on the brain receptor sites that alter the sensation of pain. Amphetamines and cocaine cause the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is the brain chemical that produces the sensation of pleasure. So basically, drugs and alcohol mimic certain chemicals in your brain (Frances, & First, 1998).
Drugs and alcohol affect your brain; they not only cause positive feelings, but often mimic the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses. Depression, mania, anxiety, delusions, and hallucinations can be triggered by intoxication or withdrawal from the drugs or alcohol. Severe depression following long-term cocaine use resembles major depressive disorder. The effects of amphetamines can mimic mania. The side effects of withdrawal from benzodiazepines can look and feel exactly like a panic disorder. It is important to remember that psychological and behavioral problems are caused directly by the effects of drugs and alcohol on your brain chemistry (Frances, & First, 1998).
Whenever a psychiatric problem occurs during intoxication or within a month of withdrawal, it is probably due to the side effects of the drug. Each class of drugs can result in mental health problems. If you have quit using and your depression gradually lifts, that depression was likely a side effect of the drug. If it does not lift, then you need to contact your physician to assess your depression (Frances, & First, 1998). The evidence about drugs, alcohol, and their effect on mental health provides you with a good reason to stay sober and a great reason to learn relapse prevention coping skills.
1. Drugs add up. Using more than one drug increases the probability that you will experience a serious mental health problem. The more you take, the worse it gets.
2. Time makes a difference. The longer you use, the greater the probability you will experience mental health problems.
3. Drugs worsen existing mental health problems. If you already have depression, anxiety or other mental health problems using drugs or alcohol will make them worse.
4. Addiction always goes hand-in-hand with mental health problems (Jiwani, & Somers, 2004). Those who experience addiction are also more likely to have a mental health problem. People who have mental health problems are more likely to develop an addiction if they haven’t developed coping skills.
5. Depression and anxiety are the most frequently triggered mental health problems when using drugs and alcohol. Using substances can trigger or worsen anxiety or depression. Depression and anxiety are associated with the use of drugs and alcohol. Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol often has a side effect of depression and anxiety.
Depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol use can all result in negative thoughts and feelings. They lead to avoidance behaviors and isolation because you don’t feel like being with other people. They can strain personal relationships and the coping skills you do have. To make it worse, it’s often difficult for others to be around people who have untreated and unmanaged addiction, depression and anxiety, so people may avoid you (Frances, & First, 1998).
If you have had an addiction experience, it makes good sense to evaluate your mental health and pay particular attention to depression and anxiety. Becoming knowledgeable about mental health, and seeking timely professional help if you are troubled by mental health problems also makes good sense. It reduces the likelihood of relapse. Take time now to list the mental health problems you experienced before and while using drugs or alcohol.
If you are experiencing troubling mental health problems, take time right now and add them to your “Problem List Worksheet” located at the end of Chapter Two.