The Mental Health Risks of Recreational Drug Use

Any use of illicit and recreational drugs comes with serious risks to mental health. Any drug has the potential to worsen or trigger episodes of mental illness or psychosis. Drug use can even lead to lifelong mental health issues that require regular care. It is important to seek professional support immediately for any mental illness and substance use. Managing both issues together provides the best chance of overcoming each one and making lasting, positive changes.

Illegal drugs are mind-altering drugs. They can have a serious and severe impact on mental health. Any use, even casual or occasional use, of illicit substances puts you at risk for developing a mental illness, becoming addicted, overdosing, or experiencing a terrifying episode of psychosis.

Residential, professional treatment for both mental illness and substance use can help you change your behaviors and resolve the symptoms of mental illness.

What Are the Risks of Using Drugs?


There are many dangers of recreational drug use, and they don’t discriminate between the poor and wealthy, by race, or by where you live. Anyone who misuses an illegal drug, even casually, is putting himself or herself at risk of experiencing serious mental and physical health issues.

Some of the potential risks of using drugs include:

  • Developing a substance use disorder
  • Experiencing a fatal overdose
  • Triggering a mental illness, like depression
  • Worsening any existing mental illness

Overdose and Recreational Drug Use


Among the many health risks associated with the use of illegal drugs, the most permanent and terrifying is overdose and death. Any illicit drug has the potential to trigger a fatal overdose, but opioids pose the biggest risk. These include prescription narcotics like oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl, as well as heroin.

Opioids are central nervous system depressants. This means they trigger the brain to slow down respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. Take too much of any opioid and these functions can slow to a complete stop. This can be fatal but can also be reversed with the opioid antidote naloxone.

Substance Use Disorder


Even with occasional drug use, developing a substance use disorder is a real risk. This risk is highest with the most potent and fastest acting drugs. Opioids are particularly addictive. Substance use disorders are mental health conditions that can be diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe.

Substance use disorder is a serious condition, and it impacts a person’s ability to stop or control use of a drug. It alters behaviors, emotions, and mental wellness. With this disease, you may experience intense cravings, lose interest in other things that used to be important in your life, damage relationships with those you care about, and even lose your job or home.

It is essential to recognize signs of substance use disorder in order to get treatment as soon as possible. Whether it’s you or a family member, look for signs like spending a lot of time and money on drugs, having relationship problems, unusual behavioral changes, alterations in mental health like depression, or physical symptoms such as poor coordination or passing out often.

Substance use disorder can be treated, but it takes time and effort. Any use, even casual use, of drugs can lead to a problem. The best way to solve it is to engage in a complete treatment plan in a residential facility, where you or a loved one can get focused, individualized, and long-term care to change behaviors.

Drug Use and Mental Illness


Substance use and mental illness often go hand in hand, for a few reasons:

  • Many mental illnesses have similar risk factors as substance use disorders, like trauma or stressful life situations.
  • Having a mental illness, especially when untreated, can lead to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate.
  • Substance use may exacerbate a mental illness or trigger episodes and symptoms.
  • Drugs can trigger psychosis, which may require hospitalization.

Mental illness is one of the serious dangers of using illegal drugs. If you are already predisposed to or at risk for something like depression, for instance, even casual use of a substance could trigger the onset. If you already have a mental illness, using drugs can worsen symptoms, cause recurrent episodes, or make symptoms more regular or frequent.

The connection between substance use and mental illness is strong. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of all people with a substance use disorder also have a diagnosable mental illness, and vice versa. Some of the most common mental illnesses that co-occur with substance use include depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

While substance use is a serious risk to mental health because it can trigger or worsen mental illnesses, it also impacts treatment and recovery. Use of drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with mental health symptoms can prevent someone from seeking the professional treatment that will actually help.

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Drug Use and Psychosis


Psychosis can be very scary. It is a state of mind in which a person loses touch with reality and experiences delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and dissociation. Drug use can trigger psychosis in someone who has a mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, whether that illness had already been diagnosed or not.

But it isn’t just those who have a diagnosable psychotic condition who are at risk. Mind-altering drugs have the potential to trigger an episode in anyone, even after just one use. Drug-induced psychosis is typically acute and short-lived, but it can become a chronic issue. Having experienced it once, any future substance use may cause psychosis again. Drug use can also lead to the onset of a long-term psychotic condition in someone predisposed to it.

The best way to cope with psychosis caused by drug use is to seek professional help. Psychotic episodes can be dangerous, and those going through it need to be stabilized. They also need long-term care, such as the programs offered at residential treatment facilities.

Fentanyl – A Special Case


Any drug can cause any number of mental health issues, but one drug that is of particular concern currently is fentanyl. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, this prescription and schedule II controlled substance is between 80 and 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

It is much easier to overdose on fentanyl than other opioids because of this potency. Even a first use of the drug can be fatal. A big issue right now, and a factor helping to fuel the opioid overdose crisis, is that many people using heroin or other opioids are getting products laced with fentanyl. Unaware that this more potent drug is present, they run a serious risk of accidentally taking a fatal dose.

No one who abuses opioids, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, or frequency of misuse, is safe from the risks of fentanyl. In 2016, synthetic opioids, mostly illegally-manufactured fentanyl, surpassed all other drugs as the number one cause of overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017 there were over 70,000 overdose deaths, and that the biggest increase was in fentanyl-related deaths.

Not only does fentanyl cause so many overdose deaths, but it can also lead to a serious substance use disorder. Because it is so potent and acts so quickly, it poses a bigger risk than most other drugs of causing addiction.

Treatment for Mental Illness


The best way to manage mental illness is to get long-term treatment. These conditions are chronic and require lifelong care. In the past, it was common to manage mental illnesses and substance use separately, but it is now considered best to deal with both at the same time. For the best results, you need a residential treatment facility that will address substance use as well as the related mental illness.

Effective treatment lasts for at least three months, and patients have the best chance to focus on getting well and making lasting changes during inpatient treatment. These programs can offer a wide variety of behavioral therapies, medical care, and alternative therapies. If you or someone you care about is struggling with both substance use and mental health symptoms, getting treatment soon is essential.