What to know about mental health, addiction and medication
As of 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that nearly 40% of adults suffering with addiction were also diagnosed with an additional mental illness. This is often called a “comorbidity” or “co-occurring” disorder.
Medications used to treat some mental health problems can be harmful to addiction recovery. Sometimes, the medications themselves are classified as narcotics and can trigger someone’s disease of addiction. Other times, side effects from certain medications can make addiction recovery more difficult. It’s helpful to discuss your specific conditions, medications, and treatment options with your doctor.
What to ask your doctor
Asking questions is a key part of getting the right medical care. When it comes to addiction recovery, there is even more importance on open communication between you, your doctor, and other health care professionals. But knowing what to ask can be hard. Here are some questions to help you gain the information and understanding you need to feel confident in your treatment plan.
- Will this medication hurt my recovery?
- How does it interact with other medications I’ve been prescribed?
- Are there any side effects I should know about?
- How can I minimize or eliminate any possible side effects?
- How long will I need to take this medication?
- Can I stop taking it on my own or could this cause problems?
- Is there anything I can do to make the medicine more effective?
- Is there anything I could accidentally do to make it less effective?
Types of medications
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health issues in the United States. People struggling with addiction can be afflicted with depression and anxiety, as well. When this happens, a medical professional may prescribe a medicine specifically meant to help with your mental health, such as your mood, perceptions, and behavior. These are called “psychotropic” or “psychoactive” medications.
There are five major categories of psychoactive medicine:
- Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, like Zoloft, Celexa, or Prozac
- Antipsychotics, such as Abilify, Seroquel, and Risperdal
- Anti-anxiety agents, including benzodiazepines like Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin
- Mood stabilizers, such as Depakote, Lithium, or Epitol
- Stimulants, including Adderall, Ritalin and Focalin
These medications act on chemicals in your brain and help regulate them. If you have sharp spikes and dips in hormones, or if your hormones are consistently very high or very low, you may be more likely to experience some symptoms. This increased risk applies to a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Additionally, stimulants and benzodiazepines (or benzos), in particular, are highly addictive medications and if taken inappropriately can be dangerous, especially to someone already suffering with opioid use disorder. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) specifically cautions against taking benzodiazepines with opiates and benzodiazepines with medications like Suboxone or methadone because of the increased risk of overdose when these medications are combined.
Pros and cons of psychoactive medications
Like any medicine, the use of psychoactive medications has benefits and drawbacks. Being aware of them can help you prepare yourself for the mental and physical side effects of taking psychoactive medications. This knowledge also ensures you have realistic expectations regarding the positive effects of taking these medications.
Benefits of psychoactive medications
Fast relief: Taking a psychotropic prescription can help provide faster relief of mental health symptoms than years-long treatments, such as psychotherapeutic education or cognitive behavioral therapy. Once the drug is administered, it goes to work helping you feel better anywhere between a few weeks and a few months later.
Easy use: Taking prescriptions can be easier than going to a class or attending an outpatient meeting every week for years. Psychoactive drugs can help busy parents, employees, or students get the relief they need with less disruption to their schedule.
Low cost: Compared to paying the hourly rate for a therapist or the daily rate for inpatient treatment, these medicines can mean spending less money on your care. With the various discount cards, prescription drug coverages that insurance companies offer, and the ability to purchase generic versions of name-brand medications, your costs could be minimal or even eliminated completely.
Drawbacks of psychoactive medications
Mental side effects: Because these medications are balancing brain chemistry, there is a chance that you could endure psychological side effects. These can include things like irritability, panic attacks, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Physical side effects: There are also side effects that take a toll on your body when you administer psychotropic prescriptions. These include rashes, insomnia, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, and sexual dysfunction. In most cases, these symptoms are temporary; many will go away as your body gets used to having the drug in your system. Some of these conditions can subside in as little as a week.
Dependence: The vast majority of medications that will be recommended for a recovering person will not be considered addictive. However, there are a few exceptions for certain drug types, including anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines and stimulants. This is why it is so important to tell your doctor about your addiction diagnosis and use the drugs that are less likely to trigger your disease. The goal is for full mental and physical health, not to simply trade one illness for another.
The following are not comprehensive lists of all the pros and cons of psychoactive medicines; however, this information can give you an idea of what to expect from taking these medications as prescribed.
Pros: Relief of depressive symptoms, more energy, better sleep
Cons: Sexual dysfunction, nausea, constipation, suicidal thoughts
Pros: Relief of psychotic symptoms, clearer thinking, reduced hallucinations and delusions
Cons: Panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts
Pros: Reduced anxiety, clearer thinking, calmer mood
Cons: Blurred vision, dizziness, headaches, increased risk of overdose when combined with opioids, addictive
Pros: Fewer mood swings, fewer manic episodes, less depressive episodes
Cons: Itching, frequent urination, slurred speech
Pros: Increased focus, more energy, increased attention span
Cons: Sleep problems, weight loss, dizziness, addictive
Start the discussion with your doctor
SaVida Health recognizes how critical it is for clients to be treated with respect and receive the right chemical dependency treatment that will help them thrive. But that relief can be difficult to achieve when other mental health issues are involved. Alongside medication-assisted recovery, a conversation with your doctor about other medications can help you with mental health struggles and give you the quality of life you deserve.
Call SaVida Health at (833) 356-4080 or request a call back to learn more about comorbidities, medication-assisted treatment for opioid or alcohol addiction, and the recovery process.