Overcoming Your Addictions for Physical and Mental Health

Addiction and Illness

When someone suffers from addiction, they likely have other physical and/or mental health issues that go hand in hand with it. Comorbidity is the term we use when two or more disorders or illnesses occur in the same person. When it comes to physical diseases, the illness is often a result of drug or alcohol use. Substance abuse puts the body at risk for several different health problems including heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney damage, musculoskeletal deterioration, hormonal imbalances, prenatal effects, liver damage, cancer, HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

According to data garnered from multiple national population surveys since the 1980s, there is a high prevalence of comorbidity with mental illness and addiction. People diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are almost twice as likely to additionally suffer from addiction compared with respondents in general. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that mental illness patients are responsible for the consumption of:

  • 38 percent of alcohol
  • 44 percent of cocaine
  • 40 percent of cigarettes

Because of the interconnected nature of addiction, physical illness and mental illness, those going through recovery have to approach it in a holistic manner.  An addict has to address how their problem has affected them physically, mentally and spiritually while seeking help from various health professionals.

Sexual Addiction and Mental Illness

It’s not just drug and alcohol addiction that co-occurs with mental illness. Sexual addiction (also called hypersexuality) is a controversial diagnosis that is not included in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Hypersexuality is a proposed progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.

Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, hypersexuality does not have as an extensive list of physical health risks. On the other hand, sexual addiction often correlates with increased risk taking and continued behaviors despite health consequences such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other complications include family problems, breakups, financial issues and legal consequences.

Sexual addiction does, however, have high comorbidity rates with mental illness. Hypersexuality is characterized by emotional and mental symptoms and can be greatly affected by other mental illnesses. Like with drug or alcohol addiction, treatment for a dual diagnosis of mental illness and hypersexuality is most effective when using an integrated approach.

Treating Addiction and Mental Illness

  • Traditional addiction treatment programs don’t always work for those with a dual diagnosis. Generally, the best course of action is to find a program that works by addressing the mental illness first.
  • Behavioral therapies engage those with a dual diagnosis and address the emotional and spiritual contributors behind their mental illness and addiction. There are a number of behavioral therapies proven to work for those dealing with comorbidity including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Contingency Management Interventions, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, The Matrix Model, 12-Step Facilitation Therapy and Family Behavioral Therapy.
  • Taking care of the physical self helps with mental illness and addiction. Regular exercise balances brain chemistry, reduces stress, instills self-discipline and improves mindfulness. Physical activity can also improve sleep, reduces brain fog, and promotes a more positive mindset that makes recovery a more enjoyable process.
  • A healthy diet provides the nutrients needed while going through the taxing task of recovery. The right foods fuel the body to repair itself and the damage inflicted from drug or alcohol use. Eating well also improves cognitive function while boosting energy and mood. Drinking plenty of water along a healthy diet provides enough hydration to flush out toxins and keep the kidneys clean and functioning.
  • Mindfulness meditation helps quiet the “wanting mind” that is often in control during compulsive behaviors. Regularly meditating trains the mind to stay in the present while ignoring anxieties and self-doubts that lead to destructive behaviors.

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Addiction, physical ailments and mental illnesses often co-occur. Even with addictions such as hypersexuality that have less physical risks, there is still a high prevalence of mental illness comorbidity. When treating an addiction, it often helps to address the mental illness issue first then continue with rehabilitation methods including behavioral therapies, physical care, and mindfulness practices.

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