Substance misuse is the taking of a drug or alcohol in such a way that it leads to harm. Examples of harm include: addiction, debt, physical harm, criminal actions and relationship problems.
The drugs used may be:
- Legal substances (e.g. alcohol)
- Illegal substances, such as opiates (e.g. heroin), stimulants (e.g. cocaine, crack, amphetamines and ecstasy) and cannabis
- Prescription drugs used in a way not intended by the doctor (e.g. benzodiazepines and opioids).
If someone has a mental illness along with a substance misuse problem, they are said to have a "dual diagnosis".
Is there a link between mental illness and substance misuse?
Research shows that substance misuse may cause or worsen symptoms of mental illness. Mental illness may also be the reason a person self medicates with substances, in order to cope with symptoms or side-effects of medication. Difficulties with sleeping, feeling lonely, or the desire to boost self-confidence or change states in some other form, are other common reasons why people use and potentially abuse substances.
People who struggle with both a mental illness and substance misuse often have a history of abuse, and suffer signifiant consequences relationally, including loneliness, homelessness, and trouble with the law.
Depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are more likely to be linked to substance misuse. The drug use can prevent people from making a full recovery. It is also more likely to result in becoming unwell again or to having to be re-admitted to hospital.