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How is Mental Health Related to Addiction?

Published on: September 10, 2018

Written by: Confirm BioSciences.

Drug abuse and mental health are two sides of the same coin, each of which is accompanied by serious health risks if left untreated for too long. However, when dealt with in a timely fashion, addiction and mental health can be effectively managed.

Drug Abuse and Addiction

Like any other disease, drug abuse can be a lifelong uphill battle. Frequent and uncontrolled use of a particular substance may alter the chemical components of the brain, leading to drug addiction.

Teenage Substance Abuse

Substance abuse almost always progresses as a result of a positive first-time experience, which is why many parents and educational professionals advocate for proper friend groups in teenagers to prevent peer pressure into trying drugs. Although some people can restrict their drug use to social situations only, their doses and frequency may escalate over time.

While drug abuse may be evident in some adults, teenagers are not exempt from this kind of practice. In fact, the 2017 Monitoring The Future Survey revealed the following statistics:

  • 23.1% of 8th graders tried alcohol at least once in their lifetime as of 2017; an increase from 22.8% in 2016

  • 18.5% of 8th graders tried vaping at least once as of 2017; an increase from 17.5% in 2016

  • Regarding marijuana use, recreational use increased across 8th, 10th, and 12th graders

  • Regarding other drugs i.e. bath salts, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, MDMA, prescription drugs, oxycodone, Vicodin, and cigarettes – figures have steadily dropped for the past 3-4 years

The Mental Health Stigma

Although mental health coverage is included in most medical insurance plans, many people (including those suffering from a disease and those treating it) still don’t have a clear picture on the causes and “triggers” of any given mental health disorder. Although the stigma of mental illness is gradually being lifted throughout Western society, a small community continues to dismiss the issue as emotional insecurity or incompetence.

The most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders include:

Psychotic Disorders

Psychosis refers to a condition wherein the patient experiences distorted beliefs and surreal awareness which can be manifested by hallucinations and delusions.

An example of psychosis is schizophrenia, which continues to challenge the medical community. People with this condition frequently hear voices that do not exist, as well as visualize scenarios that aren’t actually occurring. Sufferers may resort to different kinds of treatment to obtain a better grip on reality, include self-medication. Hallucinogenic drugs like marijuana can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia, and has been known to trigger the onset of the disease in people with a known genetic affiliation with the illness. 

Anxiety Disorder

A person with panic disorder, also known as agoraphobia, may experience panic attacks in response to unpredictable situations. Sufferers enduring a panic attack usually describe their experience as life-threatening when in reality, they’re usually safe. In most cases, people diagnosed with anxiety disorder may experience sweating, heart palpitations, and uneasiness.

Anxiety disorder is the most common form of mental illness co-existing with addiction. The cause and symptoms of anxiety and drug abuse often overlap; a person suffering from anxiety may start self-medicating, leading to an unavoidable dependency. A drug addict could eventually develop anxiety disorder as a result of not having drugs available as a coping mechanism.

When two disorders occur simultaneously in an individual, this is known as “comorbidity” in the medical community. Treatment for comorbid disorders should be administered immediately to prevent relapse and the progression of harmful symptoms. Self-help therapy such as frequent exercising, yoga, meditation, massage, and good sleep are good methods for treating anxiety, addiction, and many other mental health disorders.

Impulse Control and Addiction Disorders

Poor impulse control is characterized by overwhelming urges and behavioral addiction accompanied by a sudden rush of adrenaline that sufferers describe as totally gripping. Males are more prone to impulsivity disorders than females.

Impulse control disorder is usually comorbid to other mental health problems. Sufferers might attempt to deal with symptoms by taking drugs or indulging in alcohol which only aggravates symptoms. Some examples of impuse control disorders include:

  • Kleptomania, which is a strong inclination to steal things from stores, friends, and family members. This condition is not necessarily about stealing as a result of need; it is more about the patient’s inability to control their compulsions. In some cases, a “kleptomaniac” will even return whatever they stole to the original owner.

  • Pyromania is a rare condition describing a person’s obsession with fire, fire-starting paraphernalia i.e. matches and lighters, and the actual act of setting things ablaze. “Pyromaniacs” often describe a build-up of tension which can only be extinguished once they set something on fire.

  • Intermittent explosive disorder is defined by displays of extreme temper outbursts. Explosive episodes are accompanied by aggression, harsh verbatim and in some cases, physical harm towards themselves and others. Early recognition by friends and family members is crucial to prevent the development of the disorder which could ultimately lead to abuse or assault.

Antisocial Disorder

Behavioral disorders are often diagnosed in adulthood since personalities are still developing during childhood and adolescence stage. Antisocial disorder is more common in males, but many females may suffer from this disorder as well.

Antisocial disorder is often the result of a long pattern of apathy towards most healthy activities, as well as a lack of empathy towards others. People with this condition have a tendency to be egotistical and self-centered which can lead to reckless, arrogant, cynical, irresponsible and exploitative behavior. Manipulation is one characteristic of antisocial disorder, where the patient will go to great lengths to use people in order to fulfill a personal interest. They may not feel guilt or remorse for any wrongdoing, which can lead to lawbreaking. People diagnosed with antisocial disorder may frequently land in jail due to theft and other petty crimes.

It is very easy for sufferers to develop unhealthy relationships with people who abuse alcohol and drugs, leading to comorbid addiction. It can be very challenging for people with antisocial disorder to cultivate healthy relationships. However, sufferers can immerse themselves among large groups of people quite effectively.

Antisocial disorder can be difficult to treat, as sufferers simply chalk up their behavior to introversion or independence. In most cases, though, these people can benefit greatly from treatment as their symptoms are often accompanied by other mental conditions like anxiety and depression. Behavioral therapy may be used to treat antisocial disorder. 

Are Mental Health and Drug Use Correlated?

Countless articles and studies on drug abuse and mental illness have been made separately, but it’s only fairly recently that a potential link between the two conditions has been observed. Factors that may influence either mental health disorders, drug addiction, or both include:

  • Genetics
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Growing up in unhealthy homes
  • Difficulty coping with chronic physical illness
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying
  • Abuse or trauma

The correlation between mental health disorder and substance abuse can be identified during the treatment process. In most cases, people with mental illness tend to self-medicate before seeking the assistance of a healthcare professional. As a result, they become prone to abusing substances such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription medication
  • Marijuana
  • Psychoactive chemicals
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens

Mental Health Statistics

  • In 2012, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that a fraction of drug abusers also experience mental illness. In the study, about 26.7% of people diagnosed with mental health issues took illicit drugs to relieve their anxiety, depression or pain against the 13.2% drug abusers coming from folks without mental concerns. This may be attributed to the patient’s likelihood to self-medicate their self-diagnosed prognosis without proper medical consultation.

  • 55.8% of people who suffer from both mental illness and drug addiction will never receive treatment. Worse, only 7.4% received treatment for their illness which illustrates a serious problem in society when it comes to acknowledging and diagnosing mental health disorders.

  • Substance abuse may result in drug addiction. In truth, what these individuals get is just a momentary relief from their symptoms. Once the effects of drugs subside, the symptoms may return a lot stronger than before.

Dual Diagnosis: The Key To Addressing Drug Abuse and Mental Health Issues

The argument on whether drug addiction is a mental illness remains unresolved. Substance abuse alters the brain and interrupts its normal functions which would exacerbate an existing mental health disorder. A single instance may be all it takes to spur a full-fledged addiction.

In short, it may not be entirely wrong to say that addiction is a mental illness. Addiction is usually not a choice since it creates a whole series of mental, emotional, and psychological issues.

In co-occurring conditions where patients exude symptoms for mental illness and drug addiction, it becomes difficult to tell apart what condition is causing the disorder. Therefore, both problems must be addressed through intensive evaluation and monitoring.

You cannot single out mental illness from substance addiction or vice versa. Since the two conditions are so tangled up, total recovery can only be achieved by treating both conditions together. In the event you only treat one issue, a relapse will likely happen when symptoms of the untreated condition emerge.

Hallucinogens and Mental Health

Psychedelic drugs, also known as hallucinogens, are designed to copy the effects of naturally occurring neurotransmitters to induce an altered state of perception and diminish a sense of reality. There is no proof yet on their effectiveness, but some users vouch that hallucinogens can effectively treat alcoholism and other mental disorders. Still, self-medication of psychedelics is controversial and may lead to the worsening of mental health disorders, which is why medical professionals are exploring supervised administration.


As experts continue to look for concrete and permanent strategies to treat both conditions, the general public needs to understand that drug abuse and mental illness are inextricable. With a dual diagnosis and appropriate ongoing treatment, the likelihood of recovery for any individual is promising.

Related Resources

  1. https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/the-connection/
  2. https://drugabuse.com/library/mental-health-and-drug-abuse/
  3. https://alcoholrehab.com/drug-addiction/schizophrenia-and-substance-abuse/
  4. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/co-occurring-disorders/impulse-control-disorder/
  5. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms/
  6. https://www.medicinenet.com/antisocial_personality_disorder/article.htm
  7. https://www.addiction.com/12538/a-double-whammy-anxiety-disorders-and-substance-abuse/
  8. https://canadiancentreforaddictions.org/is-drug-addiction-a-mental-illness/
  9. https://www.britannica.com/science/psychedelic-drug