Mental health and substance abuse |

Mental health and substance abuse

Mirelle Zamudio
Tahoe Youth & Family Services

Out of four adults who are living with a serious mental health issue, more than one also will have a substance use problem. It is referred to as having a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. While a mental health issue has unique symptoms and requires different treatment from those of a substance use disorder, they affect each other greatly.

In co-occurring mental and substance use disorders, there are underlying causes such as genetic predispositions, early exposure to stress or trauma, and brain composition, but one does not directly cause the other and it is hard to determine which came first. In youth, early drug use is a high-risk factor for development of a substance use disorder and later occurrence of a mental health illness. Individuals who use certain illegal drugs can experience symptoms related to a mental health issue and some people with mental health issues misuse substances to self-medicate. Regardless, both the mental health issue and substance abuse worsen if untreated.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 50 percent of individuals with a dual diagnosis do not receive treatment for either their mental health or substance use. Common barriers faced among people who do seek help include being unable to afford the cost, not knowing where to find treatment, and stigma. In the instance of a substance use disorder, those who did not seek treatment said they were not ready to stop using.

Having a co-occurring diagnosis can be frightening, but treatment and support are available. An integrated and comprehensive approach is the best treatment for management and recovery. There are different programs for co-occurring disorders and finding the right one will allow for sustained recovery. Although relapses may occur, they are part of the recovery process.

Another resource that is beneficial for the road to recovery is having peer support. Learning from other’s experiences of living with a dual-diagnosis provides support and understanding that can help with developing coping strategies during such a life-changing event. Both a mental and substance use diagnosis will take time and commitment, but nonetheless, are treatable

Tahoe Youth & Family Services remains open and offers counseling and support services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse in South Lake Tahoe and Douglas County. If you want to make an appointment for you or your adolescent, call Tahoe Youth & Family Services at (530)-541-2445 or (775)-782-4202. Information on services is also available on their website at