heroin

Drug abuse and mental health problems

Mthandazo Ndlovu

The world commemorates the Mental Health Awareness Day on 10 October every year, and we as a nation do also participate in these celebrations.

It’s the common language in our communities that it is his mbanje or his whatever drug that has caused him to be mentally disturbed. How far true are these sayings?

The use and abuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances of abuse does to some extent contribute to the development of mental disorder.

When a mental health problem goes untreated the drug abuse problem gets worse, and when a drug and substance abuse problem increases, mental health problems increase too.

Substance abuse and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are closely linked, while some substance abuse can lead to or cause prolonged  psychotic reactions.

Alcohol and other drugs are sometimes to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. People often abuse alcohol or other drugs to ease symptoms of undiagnosed mental disorder, to cope with difficult emotions or temporarily change  their mood.

Unfortunately abusing substances can cause side effects and in the long run often worsen the symptoms they initially helped to relieve.

Mental health disorders are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment and other outside factors.

If you are at the risk of mental disorder, abusing alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs may push you over the edge.

There is some evidence that certain abusers of marijuana/ mbanje have an increased risk of psychosis while those who abuse opioids are at a greater risk for depression.

Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of mental health problems worse. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or even trigger new symptoms.

Abuse of alcohol or drugs can also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills and mood stabilisers making them less effective in managing symptoms.

It can be difficult then to diagnose a substance abuse problem and co-occurring mental health disorder. It takes time to make out what can be a mental disorder and what might be a drug and alcohol problem.

The signs and symptoms vary according to the substance for example the signs of depression and marijuana abuse look very different from those of schizophrenia and alcohol abuse.

These are some warnings that you might have a co-occurring disorder.

Do you use alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant feelings or memories, to control pain or intensity of your moods, to face situations that frighten you or to stay focused on tasks?

Do you get depressed when you drink?

Do you feel depressed or anxious even when you are sober?

*** To be continued.

Mthandazo Ndlovu is a drug prevention and rehabilitation specialist. For more information contact 00263772399734 or email mthae4jesus@gmail.com and join the Rechabites in building drug-free, healthy productive communities.