Mental Illness and Addiction: What’s The Connection?


Mental health disorders and addiction are both complex issues, but the truth is they often go hand in hand. How does this happen? And what can you do to help someone who suffers from both? These are important questions for anyone who knows or loves someone struggling with substance abuse, as well as anyone who has suffered with mental illness.

What Is Mental Illness?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness, also known as a mental health disorder, as "a condition characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior associated with distress and impaired functioning."

Types of Mental Illness:

There are three main types of mental illnesses: depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Symptoms vary depending on the type of disorder, but some common mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Symptoms of Mental Illness:

Symptoms usually include changes in thoughts or perceptions, emotional state (depression), behavior patterns, or functioning. Some people may also experience delusions, hallucinations, and catatonic states. But not every person with mental illness experiences these symptoms.

How Do Mental Illness and Addiction Intersect?

Most people who suffer from substance abuse often have a mental health disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The relationship between addiction and mental illness is complex, but we can characterize it as co-occurring disorders. This means that both conditions exist at the same time within one person. In another sense, they are separate issues—mental health problems aren’t always caused by substance abuse, and vice versa.

Why Does This Relationship Exist?

There are several factors to consider when trying to understand why mental illness is so closely related to addiction:

  • Mental health issues can cause people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Many substances have the effect of suppressing symptoms temporarily, which may contribute to a mental health disorder becoming more severe.
  • Many people who suffer from addiction also have underlying issues of self-esteem, which can lead them to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and drug use. They may even intentionally use some drugs for their antidepressant or mind-altering effects.
  • Genetics is also a factor. If someone has family members who have or are dealing with mental health problems and addiction, they may be more likely to develop these issues themselves. 

What Can You Do?

The best way to help someone who is struggling with mental illness and addiction is to be supportive. Here are a few tips:

  • Find support groups in your area. There may already be support groups for people dealing with both issues, and you can start one on your own. It’s also possible that there may not be any nearby, so you can investigate online support groups and forums.
  • Don’t judge the person and try to understand what they are going through. This is especially important if someone close to you has a mental health disorder and addiction issues. It’s not always easy for them to open about their feelings. Do your best to be non-judgmental and supportive.

It may also help to learn more about the relationship between mental health and addiction. You can do this by attending a support group or speaking with a professional counselor who is familiar with both issues. If you’re ready to help yourself or a loved one through the process of healing, visit today and find a rehab center nearby!


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