Most people struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. May is Mental Health Month, the ideal time to bring awareness to our struggles and to seeking treatment. It’s also an ideal time to explore the link between mental health and addiction.

Mental health and addiction 101

Co-occurring mental health and substance abuse problems are likely more common than you realize. Too often, they are treated as two separate illnesses. However, in an estimated 8.9 million Americans, these two conditions cannot be unlinked.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that roughly half of those who develop a substance use disorder also have a mental illness. Moreover, recent research shows that 29% of people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness also abuse drugs or alcohol.

When you have both a mental health issue and a substance abuse problem, it is called a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders can appear in any combination. They also differ in severity from person to person. Because co-occurring diseases are so common, let’s dive deeper into the link between mental health and addiction. 

Exploring the link between mental health and addiction

You may be wondering if mental illnesses cause substance abuse disorders. Or if addiction creates the perfect storm of circumstances to lead to mental health problems. In most cases, it’s rarely clear which one manifested first. 

Substances like drugs and alcohol can serve as a balm if you suffer from a mental disorder. Self-medicating with substances in times of crisis might provide temporary relief at first. It may help you feel more comfortable connecting with your peers or boost your confidence. But that’s part of the danger of the link between mental health and addiction. 

Link Between Mental Health and Addiction friends drinking wine together

Continued use is highly dangerous and increases the risk of addiction. What you saw as a remedy to your problems can very easily put you on a vicious cycle of misuse and abuse.

Long-term use of alcohol and drugs often produces side-effects such as anxiety and depression. Using drugs alters your brain chemistry. Prolonged use only increases your chances of developing a mental health disorder.

People suffering from these specific mental health conditions are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol:

  • major depressive disorder
  • anxiety disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • personality disorders
  • conduct disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Assessing symptoms of co-occurring disorders

The sheer variety of co-occurring disorders means symptoms are numerous and will vary. The way you abuse substances can affect your symptoms, making the link between mental health and addiction more dangerous. 

For example, abusing one drug may not have the same consequences than misusing multiple substances. Having periodic binges may also be of less concern than using once a day every day. 

Symptoms that carry over into your personal life are easier to spot. They may include:

  • financial problems
  • family problems
  • social isolation
  • homelessness
  • incarceration
  • serious medical illnesses

Link Between Mental Health and Addiction 2 family members having a disagreement

Considering causes of co-occurring disorders

Genetics, age, and environment all contribute towards developing a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and mental health concerns:

Genetics/family history

Genetics play a strong role in the development of both addiction disorders and mental illnesses. Researchers have identified genes that contribute to many mental health conditions. 

Since genes are passed down from generation to generation, family history of a disorder is also a strong indicator. Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia are all examples of conditions that can be spread through your genes.


Just because you have the genes for a certain disease does not mean that you will develop the condition. Your environment plays a big role in how their genes are expressed.

High-stress environments, trauma and physical or sexual abuse can all contribute towards a co-occurring disorder. Seeing your friends and family engage in dangerous behaviors like drug use and alcohol abuse can also be a factor. People tend to follow the examples of those they’re close with. When your loved ones behave poorly, you may be more likely to as well.  

Link Between Mental Health and Addiction kid listening to parents argue


Exposure to certain things during adolescence may also be a factor. Being introduced to drugs or alcohol at an early age can contribute to addiction and possibly mental illness, especially because the brain is still developing.

Developing a mental health condition at an early age may also make you more susceptible to addiction.  

Weighing treatment options for co-occurring disorders

While co-occurring disorders are a widespread problem, only 18% of substance abuse treatment centers and 9% of mental health clinics are equipped to handle a dual diagnosis.  Dual diagnosis treatment style=”font-weight: 400;”> should involve an integrated treatment model.

In order to treat co-occurring disorders, your health care team will treat both the substance abuse side and the mental illness side together. Care should be provided in the same place at the same time. It should also include a combination of both cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.

Depending on how serious your issues are, your health care team may provide you with multiple options for the type of treatment you will receive. The two most popular options are:

  • Residential treatment programs: This is the most intensive options. It removes you from the stresses of your daily environment. Residential programs offer structure and will often combine clinical visits and support groups.
  • Outpatient treatment options: If you feel that your issues don’t require a residential program, you can get treatment while still performing your activities in everyday life. Please note that if you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, a residential treatment program will likely provide you with access to a detox program as well.

Share this video about the link between mental health and addiction with a loved one: 

We can help you

At The Blackberry Center, you will have the opportunity to begin the journey to lifelong recovery in our state-of-the-art facilities.

We understand the link between mental health and addiction, and we can help. We use a personalized approach to addiction treatment. Our focus is on treating the disease, not the symptoms. We put our patients first every step of the way.

Our treatment program includes crisis care services, an outpatient, partial hospitalization program and other personalized health care options. Our on-site rehab programs focus on a comprehensive recovery approach. They address your physical, mental and spiritual needs for optimal wellness. Your needs are unique. We treat you as such.

Reach out for help today

You may be struggling with long-term addiction. Or you may be fighting strong temptations. We can meet you where you are in your fight for sobriety.

We welcome you to our treatment center. From support groups to individual therapy treatment options, we are here to fight the battle with you.

Reach out to us online today. You can also call us at 888-512-9802.


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