The Connection Between Addiction & Mental Health

Why do substance abuse and mental illness co-occur so frequently? Explore the intricate connection between addiction and mental health.

Every year, millions of Americans grapple with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. The effects of these disorders on those struggling with addiction and their loved ones can be devastating.

As we delve into Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s crucial to shed light on the intricate relationship between addiction and mental health and explore how they can fuel a vicious cycle.

Is There A Connection Between Addiction & Mental Health?

Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand and can be part of a vicious cycle for some individuals.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance abuse problem. This pattern is noticed most frequently with mental health problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

Addiction can contribute to the development of mental illness, just as mental illness can contribute to drug abuse.

Who is Most Vulnerable?

Youth are particularly vulnerable to the insidious connection between mental health and addiction. Drug use and addiction typically start in adolescence, a period when the first signs of mental illness commonly appear.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites studies that illustrate this risk to youth who struggle with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. For example:

  • Adolescent-onset bipolar disorder confers a greater risk of subsequent substance use disorder compared to adult-onset bipolar disorder.
  • Research suggests that youth develop depression, anxiety, and similar disorders prior to developing substance use disorders.
  • Other studies have documented an increased risk of substance use disorders in youth with untreated ADHD.

What Causes The Correlation Between Addiction & Mental Illness?

While substance abuse and mental health disorders are closely linked, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Many things can cause the connection between the two.

Certain risk factors are known to contribute to the development of both mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. These include:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities, like a genetic predisposition to certain addictions.
  • Environmental influences such as early exposure to stress or trauma.
  • Issues affecting similar areas of the brain. For example, neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin can be implicated in substance use disorders and mental illness.

In addition to these risk factors, mental illnesses can contribute to the development of substance abuse disorders, just as addiction can cause people to experience the symptoms of one or more mental health problems. For example, individuals struggling with their mental health may seek to alleviate their symptoms by self-medicating, which can lead to addiction. In other cases, substance use can lead to changes in the brain that kindle an underlying predisposition to that mental illness.

Mental Health Awareness Can Help Address Addiction

Because of the stark correlation between substance abuse and mental illness, it’s impossible to talk about addiction without also addressing mental health. Treating mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and others is essential to addressing addiction and overdose.

By recognizing the critical link between these two challenges, we can pave the way for comprehensive support, effective treatment, and, ultimately, improved well-being.

Learn more about the importance of mental health awareness and discover resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Get Resources.


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