How Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues Are Related

For years, a lot of countries continue to struggle with the problem of drug abuse. In this article, we will look into the relationship between mental health and addiction.

Some may think that drug regulations can teach people about the responsible use of drugs, particularly for those who need to use them for medical purposes. However, this wasn’t able to stop or lessen the use of illicit substances. For instance, some studies discovered that marijuana legalization has caused people to use marijuana more than usual.

States with the Most Common Drug Abuse

The spread of illegal substance use in the U.S. has been growing. According to data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), these are the 20 states have the worst numbers in terms of drug abuse:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Vermont
  3. Colorado
  4. Delaware
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Oregon
  7. Connecticut
  8. Arizona
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan
  11. New Hampshire
  12. West Virginia
  13. New York
  14. Indiana
  15. Louisiana
  16. Missouri
  17. Maine
  18. Maryland
  19. Washington
  20. North Carolina

Other highlights from the study include:

  • Alabama has the highest opioid prescription.
  • Colorado has the highest percentage of teens who used illicit drugs in the past month.
  • West Virginia has the most drug overdose deaths.

Most Common Substances Abused

Drug and alcohol abuse are caused by a number of factors – the substance may be easy to access, it may be cheaper than other habits, and it may have become a person’s means of escape from the harsh realities of life.

The following are the most commonly abused drugs:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Marijuana
  3. Pain relievers (morphine, codeine)
  4. Cocaine
  5. Depressants (tranquilizers, sedatives)
  6. Heroin
  7. Hallucinogens (LSD, Ecstasy)
  8. Inhalants

When consumed uncontrollably and for a long time, all of these substances may lead to some form of mental disorder. This may be difficult to treat, most especially if the individual remains addicted even when persuaded by a loved one to undergo treatment.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

You may know someone who has co-occurring disorders of both drug abuse and mental health issues, leading them to live a dysfunctional way of life. From the inability to function at work or school, maintain a stable relationship, or handling life’s challenges, people who abuse drugs may not be able to live their lives to the fullest.

What makes matters worse is how the symptoms of each condition could worsen if treatment is not given immediately. In other words, someone who may have mental health problems that are left untreated will be highly likely to experience a worse case of substance abuse. Similarly, failing to address alcohol or drug abuse may aggravate mental health issues.

According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. Additionally, roughly 30 percent of alcohol abusers and 54 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. Therefore, it is essential to know that there are solutions to address these conditions, particularly to repair damaged relationships and be able to get back to living a normal life again.

Which Comes First: Substance Abuse or Mental Disorder?

Just like the classic chicken-and-egg debate, it’s difficult to pinpoint which problem comes first in people who experience both of these issues. More often, alcohol and drugs are used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. People abuse alcohol or drugs with the hope of easing the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder or to temporarily mask any unfavorable feeling, which could be difficult to handle.

Unfortunately, in doing so, continuous use of such substances may cause side effects in the long run, which often worsens the symptoms that these individuals hoped to be relieved from.

Mental disorders may be caused by existing situations that an individual could not cope with easily, as well as a complex interplay of genetics. If an individual is at risk for a mental disorder, alcohol or drug abuse may push them over the edge. There are studies showing that certain marijuana abusers have an increased risk of psychosis, while those who abuse opioid painkillers are at a greater risk of succumbing to depression.

Substance abuse may increase symptoms of mental illness or may even trigger new symptoms. Furthermore, the substances may interact with medications such as anti-anxiety pills, antidepressants, and mood stabilizer, making them less effective in managing symptoms.

Substance abuse issues can potentially be prevented or lessened if mental health issues are managed adequately.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Drug addiction is considered a disease that affects an individual’s brain and behavior. This leads to an inability to control the use of the substance, whether these are legal or illegal drugs. When one becomes addicted, an individual may not be able to realize the harm that these substances may do to the body.

Drug addiction may start with experimental use of a recreational drug such as marijuana or heroin in which they are usually found at social gatherings. Some individuals who are under certain medications may also find themselves hooked with these prescription drugs, particularly if they do not follow the prescribed use. It is also common that some individuals may have gained access to these medications intended for individuals who were prescribed to take them.

The effect of these drugs on an individual varies. Some drugs, such as opioids, have a higher risk and can cause addiction more quickly than other types of illicit substances.

Addiction starts once an individual isn’t able to achieve the kind of “high” felt in the past. The next step would be to increase the dosage at frequent intervals until the desired high is achieved.

The following are the signs and symptoms of drug abuse:

  • Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
  • Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day
  • Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
  • Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended

Information about Club Drugs

Frequent partygoers may often find themselves surrounded by different kinds of drugs. As young as 16 years old, teens these days no longer have qualms about talking to strangers, nor do they fear being in an uncomfortable or deadly situation particularly when their friends are around. As a result, drug dealers take advantage of these situations and often lure these teens into buying drugs.

Unfortunately, some of these drugs are packaged as one of the known “high-end” drugs. This makes it all too dangerous since drug buyers are completely unaware of the exact kind of drug they are purchasing as well as the exact concentration of its metabolites.

Any illicit drug may pose harm to the overall health of an individual. Taking the drug along with alcohol can heighten the signs and symptoms to the extent that it can become lethal.

Signs and symptoms of use of club drugs include:

  • Behavior changes
  • Chills and sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Heightened or altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Involuntary shaking (tremors)
  • Memory problems or loss of memory
  • Muscle cramping and teeth clenching
  • Muscle relaxation, poor coordination or problems moving
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Reduced inhibitions

The State of Mental Health with Drug Abuse

Mental health disorders are influenced by a combination of emotional, environmental, and physical factors. Potential causes of mental illness include:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Experiencing a traumatic event, such as childhood trauma, early loss of a parent, or neglect
  • Brain injury or defects, or severe physical illness that affects the brain
  • Environmental toxins or poor nutrition that hinders brain development
  • Poor ability to relate to others
  • Cultural expectations or a desire to fit in
  • Substance abuse

An individual using drugs may suddenly manifest disturbing changes in behavior that can become extremely violent, thereby placing himself and others at risk. This type of behavior is common among those who abuse stimulants.

Bath salts, a type of psychoactive stimulant drug, may cause extreme behavior changes. The behavioral effects of these types of drugs include:

  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia

Drugs such as meth, cocaine, and some prescription drugs that are used to treat ADHD may also lead an individual to similar symptoms. Similarly, synthetic marijuana (popularly known as K2 or Spice) has also been found to have a profound effect on the behavior of an individual, and may result in extreme violence.


Substance abuse affects an individual’s state of mind. Based on the fact that a lot of these substances are available in the market, this may increase the likelihood of substance abuse, which may affect the individual’s mental state.

Substance abuse has a direct impact on the individual’s brain. Just like using opioid painkillers, the pain receptors are blocked to help an individual to lessen the pain. They provide a pleasurable effect on the individual. With uncontrolled use, these substances may affect the normal functioning of the brain, wherein an individual may prefer being in a, pleasurable state all the time.

Addiction and mental health are two sides of the same coin, which is why it is important to implement periodic screening throughout an addiction treatment program to monitor potential substance abuse.