Connecting the Dots: The Relationship Between Mental Health, Your Skin, and Substance Abuse

The skin can often provide clues to the state of a person's physical and mental health. For example, changes in skin texture can be signs of potential nutritional deficiencies, and individuals with mental health conditions may sometimes experience dry, itchy skin and other skin concerns due to their condition and prescribed medications. Similarly, individuals who struggle with substance use issues may also experience skin redness and other changes. If you or a loved one have noticed skin changes as a result of mental health or substance use issues, the information below can help you better understand the reasons for these changes and the steps that can be used to promote positive changes.

Mental Health and Your Skin

Mental health and the condition of your skin are closely linked. Many dermatologists now understand that stress may cause flare-ups in existing skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema, and illnesses such as depression and anxiety may cause individuals to pick their skin or to develop skin pain or itching. For many patients, dealing with a skin condition may lead to low self-esteem and poor body image. Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy can help calm the distress that skin conditions can bring, and the therapy can even make existing skincare routines more effective.

For example, one study demonstrated that patients with psoriasis needed shorter, less intense sessions of phototherapy when they participated in mindfulness sessions prior to their phototherapy. If you have a mental health condition or a skin condition, talk to your doctor about incorporating meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy into your care plan. According to Forefront Dermatology, “Mild forms of stress have little impact on the body, but when you experience frequent or chronic stress your skin can be directly affected. The following are skin issues you may experience if you suffer from stress: you notice injuries not healing quickly, you can worsen pre-existing skin conditions, you may develop hives, and you notice more acne.”

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

More than one-fourth of patients with a substance abuse issue also have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. According to Iris Healing Retreat, “a dual diagnosis refers to a substance abuse problem coupled with a mental illness.” Mental health conditions and substance use are often intertwined because they both cause significant stress, which may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. A dual-diagnosis facility is the most appropriate place for treating both issues simultaneously. Patients can receive psychotherapy, group therapy, community support, and medication as part of their treatment plan to help increase their chances of a full recovery.

Substance Abuse and Your Skin

Individuals with substance use issues may notice that their skin is drier, redder, and thinner than usual. Many substances prematurely age the skin, leading to fine lines and wrinkles, and some substances may irritate the skin, leaving behind marks or rashes. According to Medical News Today, “one factor that may trigger an episode of psoriasis, a flare, or an aggravation of symptoms is excessive alcohol consumption.” These skin changes can often be treated with medicated ointments, antihistamines to calm redness and itching, and fillers to smooth lines. Rashes often resolve with corticosteroid cream. Receiving treatment for the substance use issue often leads to considerable relief from skin irritation.

Choosing to receive treatment for mental health conditions and substance use issues is a very brave step that can change the lives of patients and their families. Treatment improves skin health, physical health, and overall quality of life. Always make sure to take care of your body and skin in every way you can! Don't be afraid to reach out for help — doing so could be the start of transforming your entire life.

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