Hypochondria is a mental illness characterized by an obsessive concern with physical health. People who suffer from hypochondria are known as hypochondriacs, and they are often consumed with worry over minor physical symptoms, such as headaches or hunger pains. Despite the absence of significant symptoms, hypochondriacs eventually become fixed on the idea that they suffer from life-threatening illnesses or other bodily ailments. Even with assurance from medical professionals that their symptoms are normal and that treatment is unnecessary, hypochondriacs continue to obsess over their perceived illness, often believing that their doctors have failed to diagnose their symptoms correctly. Hypochondriacs can become so dedicated to the belief that they suffer from a disease that they are unable to perform adequately at work, unable to maintain healthy personal relationships, and generally unable to function normally in daily life.
How Hypochondria Leads to Compulsive Behavior
Hypochondriacs cannot resist the urge to compulsively research their perceived disease or ailment. They frequently visit medical professionals in hopes of receiving a diagnosis and a treatment plan. When a doctor is unwilling to offer tests or treatments, hypochondriacs often move on quickly to another doctor in hopes of finding someone willing to provide medical care for their minor symptoms. They may agree to exploratory surgeries and invasive tests when they find a doctor who offers these options. Hypochondriacs often make great sacrifices, such as the loss of a job, in order to continue this compulsive behavior. They may also experience significant financial troubles due to the high cost of frequent, unnecessary medical care.
How Hypochondria Leads to Substance Abuse
Hypochondria may lead to a number of complications, including substance abuse. Hypochondriacs may try to self-medicate their perceived illnesses by seeking prescription drugs. By using resources such as the internet, hypochondriacs can easily determine what medications are typically prescribed for a particular illness. Unfortunately, using prescription drugs for problems that do not exist can lead to addiction. For example, when a person who does not suffer from chronic pain uses an opiate based painkiller, he or she is likely to have a euphoric experience that may lead to psychological drug cravings. Hypochondriacs who regularly use mind-altering substances without a valid medical need may become physically and psychologically dependent on a substance and develop an addiction.
Treatment for Hypochondria and Substance Abuse
When a person suffers from a mental illness, such as hypochondria, and a drug addiction, he or she has a co-occurring disorder. People who suffer from co-occurring disorders can benefit from the services of an integrated treatment program. Integrated treatment combines psychiatric care, which addresses the symptoms of mental illness, and addiction treatment, which addresses the symptoms of substance abuse. Integrated treatment is typically necessary for people with co-occurring disorders because in order to achieve a full recovery, patients must learn to manage both their mental illness and their drug addiction. If either condition is left untreated, patients are at a high risk for relapse. However, with the help of integrated treatment, patients can acquire the tools they need to manage their disorders and learn to cope with daily life in healthy ways.
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