Can a Thyroid Disorder Lead to Addiction?
The thyroid, a large endocrine gland at the base of the neck, creates, stores and releases hormones into the bloodstream and affects nearly every cell in the body. Controlled by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, the butterfly-shaped thyroid is responsible for several key functions including the following:
- Maintains the rate at which fat and carbohydrates are used
- Helps control body temperature, heart rate and calcium levels
- Regulates the body’s sensitivity to other hormones
For some people the thyroid produces too much or too little hormone leading to disorders called hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism respectively. The more serious of the two conditions is hypothyroidism, and common symptoms include obesity, joint pain, cold sensitivity, muscle weakness and depression among others. Though rare, extreme hypothyroidism can be potentially fatal.
The Addiction journal noted in 2002 that hypothyroidism is associated with cognitive impairment and may increase relapse risks for recovering alcoholics while the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders published a study in 2014 that found opiates like heroin can affect thyroid function. Benzodiazepine-class drugs like Klonopin (clonazepam) have only minor interference with thyroid function per the Clinical Neuropharmacology journal in 2011 though hypothyroidism may affect benzodiazepine use. A 2003 Neuropharmacology study found that hypothyroidism appears to reduce benzodiazepine receptor binding in the brain’s medial amygdala. This is important for several reasons including the following:
- Archives of General Psychiatry found in 1998 that reduced benzodiazepine receptor binding was associated with panic disorders.
- Increased anxiety levels may lead to the overuse of benzodiazepines, which are often used to treat panic and anxiety disorders.
- Current Opinion in Psychiatry noted in 2005 that using benzodiazepines for more than four weeks can lead to dependence and addiction.
The evidence suggests that thyroid disorders do not directly lead to clonazepam abuse, but its symptoms may motivate substance use that indirectly leads to addiction. Similarly hypothyroidism can potentially motivate other forms of substance abuse including the following:
- Opioid painkillers to address physical discomforts like joint and muscle pain
- Alcohol that creates psychological warmth (e.g., brandy) to counter cold sensitivity
- Illicit or prescription stimulants to lose weight caused by the decrease in metabolism
- Antidepressants to counter the prolonged drops in mood and outlook
The other common form of thyroid disorder, hyperthyroidism (or Grave’s disease), can also motivate substance abuse in indirect ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, the overproduction of thyroid hormones can potentially cause a rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, anxiety, sweating, heat sensitivity, fatigue, insomnia, frequent bowel movements, thinning skin and brittle hair. A person might attempt to self-medicate these symptoms with the same substances but for different reasons including the following:
- Benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety or help induce sleep
- Painkillers to ease emotional pain from unwanted physical changes
- Alcohol in an attempt to calm nerves and trembling hands
- Stimulants like Ritalin or cocaine to overcome fatigue
Furthermore the impact of thyroid disorders on mental health cannot be discounted. Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and co-occurring mood disorders are a significant risk factor for addiction. Several studies demonstrate the connection between mental health and addiction including the following:
- The American Journal of Psychiatry cited a study in 2005 that found 72% of drug addicts also were screened for a mental health disorder.
- The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health (NSDUH) found mentally ill adults were three times as likely to meet the criteria for substance abuse.
- The National Institute of Mental Health stated in 2008 that untreated mental health disorders can motivate substance abuse.
Coincidentally the New York Times noted in 2014 that the mental health medication lithium can induce hypothyroidism, which means mental health disorders can also precede thyroid problems.
If an addiction does occur, professional treatment is the best recovery option regardless of what initiated the original substance use. Rehabilitation centers strive to treat the whole person, which includes coordinating treatment for thyroid and mental health disorders like addiction to clonazepam. Potential services provided during treatment can include the following:
- Supervised detox with medical options depending on the substance abused
- Extensive screenings for co-occurring physical and mental health conditions
- Integrated and coordinated care for all diagnosed co-occurring disorders
- Behavioral therapies that target maladjusted emotions, beliefs and thought patterns
- Motivational interviewing (MI) that helps patients foster personal reasons to change
- Life-tools training to improve conflict resolution and anger and stress management
- Counseling in group and individual settings to address common problems and pitfalls
- Relapse-prevention techniques to counter cues that trigger substance use cravings
- Optional holistic therapies like acupuncture and massage that promote overall wellness
Just as follow-up sessions are needed to check the thyroid disorder, aftercare services are strongly encouraged for addiction and mental health care. Recovering addicts should also become active in local support groups and find recovery sponsors.
Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day on our toll-free helpline, and we can discuss treatment options, facility locations, addiction warning signs and any other concern you might have. If you have health insurance, we can also look up the plan and explain its treatment benefits. Most untreated health issues only grow worse, so if you need help, please call now.