The stresses of college life and the availability of drugs and alcohol on college campuses pose a unique challenge to students dealing with a mood disorder or substance abuse problem.
These issues are difficult enough to deal with on their own, but when they occur at the same time — something called dual diagnosis — the resulting situation is especially challenging.
There are, however, resources that provide help to students dealing with these issues.
About Mood Disorders
Mood disorders include conditions such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. They occur when chemicals related to mood do not function normally.
Mental health issues are increasingly common among college students. Mental illnesses affect one in four college students, and 44 percent of college students in the U.S. report feeling depressed.
Warning signs of a mood disorder include:
- Loss of interest in usual activities,
- Prolonged and/or frequent sadness or anxiety,
- Appetite changes,
- Sleeping patterns changes,
- Being unable to focus, and
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide.
Alcohol is a big part of the gathering culture at many colleges. Sometimes, illegal and prescription drug use occurs. For some students, engaging in these activities could lead to substance abuse or addiction.
Experts differentiate between drug abuse and addiction. Drug abuse consists of using a prescription in a way other than the way prescribed or using any illegal substance. When someone requires the substance to carry out daily activities, that person is addicted.
Warning signs of addiction include:
- Deteriorating self-care,
- Sudden behavior changes,
- Losing interest in usual activities,
- Acting aggressive or irritable, and
- A sudden change in spending habits.
Alcohol or drug problems and mood disorders can occur together. When they do, they are often related. It is estimated that 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
This can lead to an addiction problem and cause the mood disorder to worsen.
Sometimes, dual diagnosis can occur because of a physical health issue. The stress of dealing with a serious or recurring health issue may cause someone to become depressed or anxious. Patients may also become addicted to prescribed medicines or painkillers after dealing with a physical illness or injury. Mood disorders may increase the risk of developing a dependency.
Students may also develop a mood disorder because of drug or alcohol abuse. As their grades slip, their finances become depleted or their relationships become strained, they may begin to feel hopeless and depressed.
How to Get Help
Mental health problems are common among college students, but 75 percent of college students with mental health issues do not seek help. However, college students have many different resources available to them for help with these issues.
Schools often have counseling centers that students can go to for help with mental health issues. At these centers, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers will talk with you and may suggest talk therapy, medications, self-help strategies or a combination of the three to help cope with mood disorders.
Recovering from drug addiction usually involves detoxification, therapies, counseling and sometimes recovery time in an inpatient facility. Therapy outside of school could also be beneficial to students.
If you think you may have a mood disorder, substance abuse or addiction problem or both:
- Talk to friends and family about your feelings and situation,
- Seek professional help at your school’s counseling center or an outside facility, and
- Avoid situations where drugs and alcohol are easily accessible.
If you think a friend may be suffering from these issues:
- Attempt to talk with the person about your concerns, and
- Encourage them to get professional help if needed.
If you think you or a friend is at an immediate risk for suicide, do not leave the person alone and call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Mood disorders, substance abuse and addiction and dual diagnosis can have serious effects on a college student’s well-being. However, help is available and recovery is possible.