Survey: More than 3 in 4 Americans use addictive behavior or unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage their mental health

Addressing underlying mental health issues may be crucial to effective treatment

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(SOUTH BEND, Indiana) – Addiction is all too common. In addition to drugs and alcohol, many people use unhealthy behaviors—from binge/restrictive eating to excessive gambling and social media use—as coping mechanisms.

A new national survey from Myriad Genetics, the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor, finds while nearly all Americans (94%) agree that substance and behavioral addictions often mask underlying mental health issues, more than three in four (77%) have used one or more addictive behaviors to cope with life’s problems in the past year.

“Mental health and addiction often go hand-in-hand,” said Morgan Freas, PharmD, a senior medical science liaison with Myriad Genetics. “Yet the stigma associated with admitting mental health challenges is often greater than escaping into substance or behavioral abuse.”

Dawn Johnson, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at The Indiana Center for Recovery in South Bend, strives to understand each patient’s individual experience to help them find a healthier path forward. 

“Typically, people are trying to self-medicate an emptiness–any way to get that dopamine response or that ‘feel good’ response from any of the neurotransmitters that we get when we’re engaging in something that may or may not be healthy for us,” said Johnson.

Johnson uses the GeneSight Test to help inform her medication selection when treating certain mental health conditions. The test is done with a simple cheek swab and is analyzed in a certified lab. The resulting report details which medications prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health conditions may require dose adjustment, may be less likely to work, or may have an increased risk of side effects based on the patient’s DNA.

“That gives them a lot of reassurance and comfort to know that we’re not just throwing meds at them, we’re actually customizing the plan for them based on their genetic makeup,” said Johnson.

Of those who were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety and were told they have a problem, 58% say mental health treatment helped relieve their addiction concerns. Experts say a good first step is talking with a healthcare professional.


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Dawn Johnson, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, counsels Jenna Dougall at the Indiana Center for Recovery. Dougall struggled with both anxiety and addiction. Johnson says one cannot be effectively treated without addressing the other.

Dylan Eyestone submits a cheek swab as part of the GeneSight test he took through his mental healthcare provider, Dawn Johnson. The sample is analyzed in a lab and Johnson receives a report detailing how Eyestone may metabolize or respond to certain mental health medications based on his unique DNA.

With a simple cheek swab, the GeneSight test generates a report that gives healthcare providers insight into how a patient may metabolize or respond to certain psychiatric medications.

After using drugs and alcohol to cope with his symptoms, Dylan Eyestone sought mental health treatment for depression where he learned to use healthier coping mechanisms he enjoys, such as exercise.

Many of Dawn Johnson’s patients are wary of taking medication for mental health conditions after dealing with the frustration of medication trial and error. The GeneSight test gives her information about which medications may require dose adjustments, may be less likely to work, or may have an increased risk of side effects based on a patient’s unique DNA.

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