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International Awareness Overdose Day: Drug Addiction and Mental Health

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on August 31 each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Globally there is an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths caused by drugs and opioids account for the majority of drug-related deaths. In most cases, these deaths are avoidable. North America continues to experience the highest drug-related mortality rate in the world, accounting for one in four drug-related deaths globally. Statistics show that 70,237 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2017. Opioids were the primary cause of overdose.  In 2017, there were 47,600 opioid-related deaths in the United States alone, compared to 8,048 in 1999.

How does overdose occur?

An individual does not necessarily have to be addicted to drugs in order to overdose. It could be their first time using illicit drugs or maybe they took their prescription drugs incorrectly. Overdose can happen to anyone, regardless if they are a long time user or if it is their first time taking a prescription or non-prescription drug. For those who are struggling with a substance abuse disorder, mental health does play a huge role. Many individuals use drugs as a way to numb their emotional pain. They may be struggling with depression or anxiety and using drugs or alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

Mental disorders are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other outside factors. If an individual is at risk for a mental health disorder, abusing alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs may push him/her over the edge.

Additionally, drug use can increase the likelihood for developing a mental health disorder

According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.

Do you have a mental health disorder or a substance abuse disorder?

It can be difficult to diagnose a substance abuse disorder and an underlying co-occurring mental health disorder. It takes time to tease out what might be a mental health disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem. The signs and symptoms also vary depending upon the specific mental health disorder and the type of drug being abused. For example, the signs of depression and marijuana abuse could look very different from the signs of schizophrenia and alcohol abuse. Individuals also may be hiding their signs and symptoms out of fear or shame. 

Here are some general warning signs that you may have a co-occurring disorder:

  • Do you use alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings?
  • Do you use alcohol or drugs to control pain or the intensity of your moods?
  • Do you use drugs or alcohol to face situations that frighten you?
  • Do you use drugs or alcohol to stay focused on tasks?
  • Have you noticed a relationship between your substance use and your mental health? For example, do you get depressed when you drink?
  • Has someone in your family grappled with either a mental disorder or alcohol or drug abuse?
  • Do you feel depressed or anxious even when you are sober?
  • Do you have unresolved trauma or a history of abuse?
  • Have you previously been treated for either your addiction or your mental health problem? 
  • Did the substance abuse treatment fail because of complications from your mental health disorder or vice versa?

There is always hope

Both mood disorders and alcohol and drug abuse problems are treatable conditions. Recovering from co-occurring disorders takes time, commitment, and courage, but people with substance abuse and mental health problems can and do get better.

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