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Is Mental Illness Caused by Alcohol Abuse

Except in cases where a person has a genetic predisposition to alcohol, underlying emotional or psychological issues can easily become a driving force behind excess alcohol consumption. While drinkers may not start out with a full-blown psychological disorder, alcohol’s effects on the brain can cause psychological dysfunction to develop.

Unfortunately, mental illness caused by alcohol abuse is a common occurrence. According to the Medical University of South Carolina, nearly 40 percent of alcoholics suffer from one or more psychological disorders.

alcohol use and psychology

Drinking can cause or contribute to mental illness.

In effect, mental illness caused by alcohol abuse closely resembles the “chicken and egg” scenario in terms of which comes first or which causes the other. That being so, even people with no past history of psychological problems place themselves at increased risks as mental illness caused by alcohol abuse is a very real possibility.

Dual Diagnosis Conditions

Dual diagnosis conditions occur when a person suffers from both a psychological and a substance abuse disorder. Also known as comorbidity, both disorders are considered medical conditions that affect a person’s ability to function in everyday life. Each disorder exists independently of the other as one typically develops before the other.

As independent conditions, each disorder can vary in severity, duration and impact on daily functioning abilities. Though independent, psychological and substance abuse disorders do interact wherein symptoms of one condition can easily aggravate symptoms of the other.

Mental illness caused by alcohol abuse exists as a dual diagnosis condition. As alcohol abuse can greatly disrupt the brain’s natural chemical balance, these disruptions can interfere with normal cognitive and limbic system processes. When this happens, it becomes all the more difficult for a person to stop abusing alcohol.

The Potential for Co-Occurring Conditions

Mental illness caused by alcohol abuse can take various forms, though certain psychological disorders are more likely to develop than others. The most common psychological conditions associated with alcohol abuse include –

  • Personality disorders, such as borderline and narcissistic disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders

An estimated one out of every three alcoholics suffers from a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Alcoholics are also four times more likely to develop major depressive disorders compared to non-drinkers.

While alcohol abuse already takes away from a person’s ability to manage everyday life affairs, the added dysfunction brought on by a psychological disorder can lead to more severe, long-term social and emotional problems.

The Interplay Between Alcohol Abuse & Mental Illness

Chronic alcohol abuse creates an ideal brain chemical environment where psychological disorders can take root. Mental illness caused by alcohol abuse further disrupts brain chemical processes, which in turn fuels continued alcohol use.

While alcohol abuse naturally promotes increasing tolerance levels in drinkers, the symptoms that accompany a depression or anxiety disorder can further desensitize the brain to alcohol’s effects. According to the University of Washington, these effects can drive a person to increase their intake amounts in order to compensate for alcohol’s diminished effects.

Drinkers may also increase alcohol intake in an attempt to self-medicate the symptoms brought on by mental illness. In effect, dual diagnosis conditions can turn into a self-perpetuating cycle where increases in alcohol intake continue to worsen the symptoms of both conditions.

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