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How to Help Men with Depression, Anxiety and Other Mental Health Disorders Being Hidden by Substance Abuse

Mental health disorders affect both men and women, and a large number of people who struggle with mental health challenges don’t receive treatment. In our society, men often feel that it’s not ok to talk about mental health problems such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety.  Instead, they may act out with anger, aggression or violence rather than asking for help.

Frequently, men who are experiencing mental health challenges attempt to self-medicate to relieve their symptoms. They may rely on alcohol or a variety of other substances to calm feelings of anxiety or to attempt to alter a low mood. Misuse of substances can become an addiction, which almost always creates new problems. Continuing to abuse substances may eventually cause mental health problems to become worse rather than providing relief.

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The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Having both mental illness and substance use disorder is known as dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. It sometimes seems that mental health problems cause substance abuse disorder, or that abusing substances caused a mental health disorder. These conditions are separate but closely related. Both need to be treated for successful recovery of either condition.

Untreated mental health problems can cause substance abuse problems to get much worse.  Attempting to recover from substance abuse without addressing underlying mental health problems may end up resulting in relapse.

Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse or Mental Health Problems

In men, signs of substance abuse may be more obvious than depression or anxiety. Turning to alcohol in times of stress or emotional upheaval is usually thought of as being socially acceptable, particularly for men. As dependence on mind-altering substances progresses, symptoms are hard to overlook or ignore.

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse include:

When symptoms of mental health problems appear, they may not be as obvious when they’re concealed by addiction. Withdrawing from friends and family, extreme mood changes, loss of interest in life, problems concentrating and suicidal thoughts are all possible warning signs of mental health challenges. Men often try very hard to hide these symptoms.

Helping a Man Who Has a Dual Diagnosis

If a man you love has a substance abuse problem that is concealing a mental health problem, encourage him to get help. The best treatment plan addresses both substance use disorder along with co-occurring mental illness. Be supportive and compassionate rather than judgmental. Offer to make a doctor’s appointment for him or to accompany him to the appointment. An inpatient rehabilitation facility is a good place to begin the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Detoxification from substances can be done in a safe, supportive environment with trained medical staff available to monitor his condition.

Medical and mental health conditions can also be evaluated in a rehabilitation center. Your loved one’s treatment plan will include therapy, support groups and possibly medication. He’ll be able to learn new coping skills along with what he needs to do to keep symptoms, including the urge to turn to substances, under control. Your willingness to support and encourage him to stick to a treatment plan can contribute to a successful recovery.

Taking Care of Yourself

It’s possible that your loved one isn’t ready to admit there’s a problem and may be resistant to treatment for a while. If this happens, you won’t be able to force him to go. Ultimately, the decision on whether to begin the journey of recovery is up to him.

It’s difficult to live with addiction or unpredictable behavior. Learn as much as you can about substance use and dual diagnosis. Get help for yourself by going to therapy or support groups such as Al-Anon. There’s hope that eventually your loved one will agree to get help, but you can’t control whether that happens. In the meantime, it’s imperative that you get help for yourself.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment programs in Los Angeles.

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