Addiction and Nervous Breakdown

A nervous breakdown is a type of mental health crisis. Although it is not a formal diagnosis, it is a recognized reaction to a great deal of stress and occurs when someone is no longer able to cope with that stress or function normally. Substance abuse and addiction may co-occur with a nervous breakdown or contribute to it. A person who is experiencing chronic stress and not coping well may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. A nervous breakdown can be treated by diagnosing and treating any underlying mental illnesses, managing and treating substance use disorders, and learning healthier coping mechanisms for stress.

What Is Addiction and Nervous Breakdown?


A nervous breakdown is not technically a mental illness that can be diagnosed by mental health professionals. However, it is often used to describe a state of mind and pattern of behaviors caused by a mental health crisis. It is a time-limited crisis, which will not last forever even if it feels like it. A person going through this may feel extreme stress, fear, anxiety, or depression. The usual cause of this state is a buildup of stress and pressure to the point at which a person can no longer cope.

Addiction is dependence on alcohol or drugs, and is caused by long-term misuse of these substances. Addiction professionals now use the term substance use disorder, either mild, moderate, or severe, to describe an issue with drugs or alcohol. Substance use disorders often co-occur with mental illnesses. Although a nervous breakdown is not a mental illness, it is a poor state of mental health and may be accompanied by substance use. Over time, using drugs or alcohol to try to cope with the stress of mental crises can lead to addiction.

Facts and Statistics


Because nervous breakdown is not a diagnosable condition, there are no real statistics collected on it. However, there are statistics about co-occurring mental illnesses, symptoms of which may contribute to a breakdown, as well as facts about stress, a big trigger of nervous breakdowns.

  • More than a quarter of American adults have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.
  • Mental health issues are the top causes of disability in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Nearly 10 percent of American adults struggle with depression.
  • Eighteen percent of American adults have an anxiety disorder in any given year.
  • About 8.3 million Americans suffer from stress that is considered serious, a number that has risen in recent years.
  • Work is a common source of stress, and work hours have increased from an average of 40 per week to 47, while the number of vacation days that people take is down.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Addiction and Nervous Breakdown


Although it is not an official diagnosis, a mental health professional may evaluate someone and determine that they are experiencing a crisis or a nervous breakdown. The signs of being in this state can vary by individual, but there are some common symptoms, including:

  • Persistent negative feelings, like anxiety and depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling isolated from others
  • Mood swings and emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty thinking, remembering, or concentrating
  • Uncharacteristic behaviors
  • Physical symptoms, like insomnia, getting sick often, a racing heartbeat, chest pains, sweating, and headaches

Someone who is experiencing a nervous breakdown will also have a difficult time functioning. This may come on slowly and gradually or all at once, but signs that a person is not functioning due to poor mental health include:

  • Missing days of work or school
  • Performing uncharacteristically poorly at work or school
  • Withdrawing and avoiding social functions
  • Not completing ordinary responsibilities
  • Not taking care of personal hygiene or chores

Substance abuse may play a role in the development of a nervous breakdown, but it can also be an attempt to cope with this troubling state of mind. A person who is struggling to cope with stress may drink or use a drug to try to relieve that stress. Before long, this habit can develop into a real problem. There are several possible symptoms of a substance use disorder, which can range from mild to severe:

  • Using a substance for longer than intended or in larger amounts that intended
  • Having cravings for the substance
  • Spending excessive time trying to use or thinking about using a substance
  • Trying to cut back and failing
  • Using substances even after it is clear that the use is causing problems in relationships
  • Failing to meet responsibilities because of substance use
  • Missing normal activities because of substance use
  • Continuing to use a substance even in risky situations
  • Using substances even knowing that they are causing physical or psychological problems
  • Developing a tolerance to a substance
  • Experiencing withdrawal when not using a substance

Causes and Risk Factors


The underlying cause of a nervous breakdown is stress. Many people are able to cope with stress without having this crisis, and why some people are more susceptible to a breakdown is not always understood. There are also a lot of differences in what causes a person stress, from external factors like work pressure or a traumatic experience, to internal forces like depression. Some examples of things that may cause stress and a resulting breakdown include:

  • Long work hours and problems or pressure at work
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Being the victim of a crime
  • Having a chronic or terminal illness
  • Family and relationship problems, such as divorce
  • Having an anxiety disorder or depression that is untreated
  • Financial problems

Risk factors that make someone more vulnerable to suffering a nervous breakdown because of stressful situations include:

  • Lacking social support
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Having a high-achieving, perfectionist personality
  • Taking on a lot of responsibilities at once, without relying on help
  • Having a pessimistic outlook
  • A need to be in control of situations
  • Not having or using healthy coping mechanisms for stress

There are similar risk factors for substance abuse, but any of these issues that cause stress or make coping with stress more difficult can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol to cope. Becoming addicted to a substance is caused by repeated use, but the initial problematic use is often caused by a number of interrelated factors like stress, poor coping, and underlying mental illness.

Withdrawal and Detox


Anyone who is struggling with substance use and a mental health crisis needs treatment, but the first step is to detox. Detoxing from drugs or alcohol prepares a patient to be screened and treated for other mental health issues. This process is likely to cause withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, nausea, irritability, insomnia, shaking, sweating, and others, so going through it is best done with supervision.

Withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and when a person goes through this process it may trigger a reaction that seems like a nervous breakdown. The symptoms can be similar, and the withdrawal process may actually cause a nervous breakdown, especially if a person has been struggling to cope with stress and pressure for a long time. This is another reason that supervised detox is always preferred to trying to go it alone.

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Other Co-Occurring Disorders


Both a nervous breakdown and substance use disorder can co-occur with other mental health issues. Depression and anxiety disorders are particularly common, and in fact they can be underlying causes or triggers for both substance abuse and nervous breakdowns. Someone with an anxiety disorder may experience panic attacks, and these can seem very much like a nervous breakdown, with intense fear, sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and other physical symptoms.

A nervous breakdown may occur with psychotic symptoms, although this is not very common. Psychosis means a break with reality, and the more common symptoms that accompany a nervous breakdown or a panic attack are feelings of detachment or feelings of dissociation from one’s body.

Treatment and Prognosis


Treatment for addiction and nervous breakdown is very important to avoid having another experience in the future. A person who is in crisis and cannot be calmed down, or who may cause harm to themselves or someone else, may need emergency care. Brief hospitalization can help resolve the crisis and lead to a long-term treatment solution.

For someone who is more stable, treatment should include a full screening for any underlying mental illnesses and should address substance use as well. How an individual will be treated depends on the mental illnesses diagnosed, but in general includes a range of therapies to help the person learn to cope with stress and change negative thoughts and behaviors. It may also include medications for specific mental illnesses. Treatment for substance use disorders also includes therapy, medications if appropriate, group support, and lifestyle changes.

Addiction and nervous breakdown may often occur together and each can make the other worse. The only way to overcome them and learn to better manage stress is to get treatment for both substance use and underlying mental illness. When a person goes through this kind of comprehensive treatment, the outlook is positive, and they are likely to return to a normal way of life with better tools for handling stress.