Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

It’s a little bit like the question about the chicken and the egg. Which came first? Substance abuse or mental illness? In reality, either one can come first. Someone with a mental illness, which could be anything from schizophrenia to obsessive compulsive disorder to depression, may use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Imagine feeling anxious all the time or so depressed that you can’t face the day. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about a past trauma. Drinking or getting high to forget those feelings would be a relief. Before you know it, you have a substance abuse problem.

On the other hand, a person may start out with substance abuse, just experimenting with drugs or drinking, and lets it get out of hand. Abusing substances can trigger symptoms of mental illness or make them worse. Drinking too much can lead to depression. Using meth may cause anxiety. Getting high on hallucinogens can lead to trauma because of a bad trip. From either direction, the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse is common and complex.

Treating Both Mental Illness and Addiction

What if you suffer from depression and use speed to give yourself the energy to get through the day? Before long you develop a habit and you go to rehab to get clean. You get sober and leave rehab, but no one addressed your depression. It’s still there. After rehab, you feel depressed, but you have no idea how to cope with the feeling. How likely do you think it is that you will turn to drugs again to cope? It’s pretty likely, and this is why addressing both mental health and addiction is so important during rehab.

The best drug rehab facilities and the most expert addiction professionals know that it is crucial to screen all patients for mental illness and to then treat that illness along with addiction. In fact, research tells us that one of the principles of the most effective addiction treatment is to treat all the needs of an individual, which includes mental, emotional and psychological needs. To focus only on substance abuse is a major misstep and sets the patient up for failure after rehab. Conversely, anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness should also be questioned about substance abuse.

To help the person you care about who is struggling with both mental health issues and addiction, carefully seek out treatment that will help with both. You also want a program that focuses on the individual needs of the patient and doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. Your loved one is unique, not a statistic. To help him, make sure you seek out the best and most research-based treatment facility.


Choose a better life. Choose recovery.