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Important Information about

Mental Illness


We still don't know exactly what happens in the brain when people are anxious, depressed, addicted, or have some other mental illness. But studies show that certain parts of the brain don't seem to be working normally. Mental illness might also be affected by changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters.

  • Researchers know that if a mental illness runs in your family, you have a higher chance of getting that illness.
  • Studies show that women are about twice as likely as men to become depressed. The hormonal changes that women go through at different times of their lives may be a factor. A man’s response to stress is commonly the abuse of substances.
  • People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. That can be compounded by other factors -- living alone and having a lack of social support. Also, teens suffer from anxiety and substance abuse often due to transitioning from child to adult.
  • Conditions such as cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, chronic pain, and many others increase your risk of becoming depressed and anxious.
  • Trauma, such as violence or physical or emotional abuse -- whether it's early in life or more recent -- can trigger depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. So can grief after the death of a friend or loved one.
  • It's not surprising that people might become depressed and anxious during stressful times -- such as during a divorce or while caring for a sick relative. Yet even positive changes -- like getting married or starting a new job -- can sometimes trigger a mental illness.
  • Many prescription drugs can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, paranoia, or delusions. Alcohol or substance abuse is common in depressed people. However, it often makes their condition worse.

Common Types

  • Adjustment Disorder: (very common) occurs when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a stressful event or situation. The stressors may include natural disasters, such as an earthquake or tornado; events or crises, such as a car accident or the diagnosis of a major illness; or interpersonal problems, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a problem with substance abuse. Adjustment disorder usually begins within three months of the event or situation and ends within six months after the stressor stops or is eliminated.
  • Impulse Control Disorders: People with this disorder are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires) and Kleptomania (stealing), are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Compulsive Gambling are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.
  • Anxiety Disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or nervousness, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person's response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and specific Phobias.
  • Mood Disorders: These are also called affective or mood disorders and involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are clinical depression, mania, and bipolar disorder. People with Depression tend to view the world in an excessively pessimistic or hopeless light and can have thoughts of suicide; there is no expectation that things will improve and often this dismal state of affairs is perceived as being their own responsibility. Individuals suffering from a mild form of illness are distressed by their symptoms, but able to continue activities in all areas of life albeit with greater efforts. However, the more severe the illness, the greater the disability is from depression. Mania causes overly happy feelings, irritability, talking very fast about a lot of things, sleep problems, and a desire to do very risky things. People with Bipolar Disorder go through unusual mood changes. There are uncontrolled episodes of depression and mania.
  • Psychotic Disorders: These involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations -- the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices -- and delusions -- false beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
  • Eating Disorders: These involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia, Bulimia nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Important Information about

Co-occurring Drug Abuse & Mental Illness

When two disorders or illnesses occur simultaneously in the same person, they are called Co-occurring. Surveys show that drug abuse and other mental illnesses are often co-occurring. Six out of ten people with a substance use disorder also suffer from another form of mental illness. But the high prevalence of these co-occurring disorders does not mean that one condition caused the other, even if one appeared first. In fact, there are at least three scenarios that we should consider:

  • drug abuse can cause a mental illness
  • mental illness can lead to drug abuse
  • drug abuse and mental disorders are both caused by other common risk factors

In reality, all three scenarios can contribute, in varying degrees, to the establishment of specific co-occurring mental disorders and addiction.

Why Do Drug Abuse and Mental Disorders Commonly Co-occur?

1. Overlapping genetic vulnerabilities. Mounting evidence suggests that common genetic factors may predispose individuals to both mental disorders and substance abuse or to having a greater risk of the second disorder once the first appears.

2. Overlapping environmental triggers. Stress, trauma (e.g., physical or sexual abuse), and early exposure to drugs are common factors that can lead to substance abuse and to mental illness, particularly in those with underlying genetic vulnerabilities.

3. Involvement of similar brain regions. Some areas of the brain are affected by both substance abuse and mental disorders. For example, brain circuits linked to reward processing as well as those implicated in the stress response are affected by abused substances and also show abnormalities in specific mental disorders.

4. Substance abuse and mental illness are developmental disorders. They often begin in adolescence or even childhood, periods when the brain is undergoing dramatic developmental changes. Early exposure to substances of abuse can change the brain in ways that increase the risk for mental illness, just as early symptoms of a mental disorder may increase vulnerability to substance abuse.

How Common Are Co-occurring Drug Abuse and Mental Disorders? Compared with the general population, patients with mood or anxiety disorders are about twice as likely to also suffer from a substance misuse disorders and patients with substance misuse disorders are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders. The rates of specific co-occurring disorders also vary by gender. Among men and women in alcohol or other drug treatment, antisocial personality disorder is more common in men, while women have higher rates of major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders.

Important Information about

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions are patterns of behavior, which follow a cycle similar to that of substance misuse.

Traditionally, the term "addiction" has been used to describe dependence on substances, such as alcohol and other drugs. More recently, "addiction" has been applied to a range of behaviors.

This begins with the individual experiencing pleasure in association with a behavior and seeking that behavior out, initially as a way of enhancing their experience of life, and later, as a way of coping with stress. The process of seeking out and engaging in the behavior becomes more frequent and ritualized, until it becomes a significant part of the person's daily life. When the person is "addicted", they experience urges or cravings to engage in the behavior, which intensify until the person carries out the behavior again, usually feeling relief and elation.

Negative consequences of the "addictive" behavior may occur, but the individual persists with the behavior in spite of this. Examples of addictive behaviors include:

  • Problem Gambling
  • Sexual Activities
  • Food and Eating
  • Exercise
  • Computer Games
  • Work

These "addictions" are real, in that they follow the same pattern as substance abuse and they result in problems in many areas of the individual's life. They have similar effects on relationships, which are often neglected in favor of the "addictive" behavior, undermining trust and putting pressure on partners and other family members to cover up and make up for difficulties arising from the "addiction". "Addiction" to these behaviors involves similar brain mechanisms to substance abuse.

What is Internet addiction or Computer addiction? Internet Addiction, otherwise known as computer addiction, online addiction, or internet addiction disorder (IAD), covers a variety of impulse-control problems, including: 

  • Cybersex Addiction – compulsive use of Internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult fantasy role-play sites impacting negatively on real-life intimate relationships.
  • Cyber-Relationship Addiction – addiction to social networking, chat rooms and messaging to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real life relationships with family and friends.
  • Net Compulsions – such as compulsive online gaming, gambling, stock trading, or compulsive use of online auction sites such as eBay, often resulting in financial and job-related problems.
  • Information Overload – compulsive web surfing or database searching, leading to lower work productivity and less social interaction with family and friends.
  • Computer Addiction – obsessive playing of off-line computer games, such as Solitaire or Minesweeper, or obsessive computer programming.

The most common of these Internet addictions are cybersex, online gambling, and cyber-relationship addiction.

What is a Sexual Addiction? New York-based sex therapist Mavis Humes Baird defines it as any sexually related activity that is having a destructive effect on your life. Sufferers latch on to a behavior - masturbation, pornography, anonymous hookups, or standard affairs - until it starts to take over their lives. "The physical symptoms include intense cravings, high tolerance, loss of control, and, in the later stages, dependence and compulsion," Humes Baird explains. These are also symptoms of substance abuse. "And the mental symptoms are obsession, denial, and the illusion of control. For addicts, there's always a progression - you seek more of the behavior despite its devastating consequences on your life." This might mean blowing the rent money on porn sites, trolling Craigslist for unprotected sex with strangers, or putting a loving marriage at risk over a meaningless affair. And just as a heroin addict chases a substance-induced high, sex addicts are bingeing on chemicals - in this case, their own hormones, says Alex Katehakis, a licensed family and sex therapist and the clinical director of the L.A.-based Center for Healthy Sex. "They're seeking the neurochemical cascades resulting from their addictive behavior."

What is a Food Addiction? People who are addicted to food tend to display many of the characteristics of substance abusers. Food addicts develop a physical, mental, emotional craving and chemical addiction to food.

The characteristics of food addicts can include:

  • Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food.
  • Having a lack of self-control when it comes to food.
  • Having a compulsion about food in which eating results in a cycle of bingeing despite negative consequences.
  • Remembering a sense of pleasure and/or comfort with food and being unable to stop using food to create a sense of pleasure and comfort.
  • Having a need to eat which results in a physical craving.

What Are the Signs of Food Addiction? Only the food addict can determine whether there is food addiction. The following are questions that potential food addicts may ask themselves:

  • Have I tried but failed to control my eating?
  • Do I find myself hiding food or secretly bingeing?
  • Do I have feelings of guilt or remorse after eating?
  • Do I eat because of emotions?
  • Is my weight affecting my way of life?

Food addicts also may have symptoms including headaches, insomnia, irritability, mood changes, and depression.

Shopping Addiction Almost everyone shops to some degree, but only about 6% of the U.S. population is thought to have a shopping addiction. Usually beginning in the late teens and early adulthood, shopping addiction often co-occurs with other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, other impulse control disorders, and personality disorders.

So what makes the difference between normal shopping, occasional splurges, and shopping addiction? As with all addictions, shopping becomes the person’s main way of coping with stress, to the point where they continue to shop excessively even when it is clearly having a negative impact on other areas of their life. As with other addictions, finances and relationships are damaged, yet the shopping addict feels unable to stop or even control their spending.

There are several characteristics that shopping addiction shares with other addictions. As with other addictions, shopping addicts become preoccupied with spending, and devote significant time and money to the activity. Actual spending is important to the process of shopping addiction; window shopping does not constitute an addiction, and the addictive pattern is actually driven by the process of spending money.

As with other addictions, shopping addiction is highly ritualized and follows a typically addictive pattern of thoughts about shopping, planning shopping trips, and the shopping act itself, often described as pleasurable, ecstatic even, and as providing relief from negative feelings. Finally, the shopper crashes, with feelings of disappointment, particularly with him/herself.

Compulsive shoppers use shopping as a way of escaping negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, boredom, self-critical thoughts, and anger. Unfortunately, the escape is short-lived. The purchases are often simply hoarded unused, and compulsive shoppers will then begin to plan the next spending spree. Most shop alone, although some shop with others who enjoy it. Generally, it will lead to embarrassment to shop with people who don’t share this type of enthusiasm for shopping.

Hoarding This addiction is very similar to the other behavioral addictions. Hoarding is the excessive obtaining and accumulating of things that cause problems in your life.