The Connection Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

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Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

For any individual who struggles with substance abuse or an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, there is often greater complexities that underlie this concerning disorder. Substance abuse is often the result of many factors, including biology, environmental triggers, and social exposures.

Because substance abuse has many similar root connections as other mental health disorders and illnesses, there is often a strong connection between mental illness and addiction.

Mental Illness: A Brain Disorder

Newer research is defining mental illness as a brain disorder as maladaptive brain functioning is often responsible for mental disorders. Many factors can exacerbate brain abnormalities or trigger the development of addiction or mental disorders in an individual who is biologically vulnerable to mental illness.

The chronic use of drugs and alcohol can aggravate regions of the brain that impact mood and personality, which can a driving force in the progression of mental illness. The connection between substance abuse and mental health illnesses is undeniable, which is why the big picture in treatment must address both of these concerning areas.

Addressing Both Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Ongoing research has solidified the need and importance of addressing both disorders simultaneously. Studies have revealed that when substance abuse and mental illnesses are treated together, psychotic episodes and suicide attempts are dramatically decreased1.

Cool handsome guyFortunately, a number of programs have revised approaches towards treatment to offer evidenced based therapies to address co-occurring disorders at the same time. While some aspects of treatment may vary or be slightly different for substance abuse versus a mental illness, the core of treatment works to resolve the underlying factors that contribute similarly to these disorders.

Seeking Treatment As Soon As Possible

Seeking early treatment and intervention is a fundamental aspect of finding healing and recovery. Dealing with substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health illness can result in damaging consequences if ignored or left untreated. There are many helpful resources available through this community to help you or a loved one begin your journey to recovery today.


  1. “Dual Diagnosis: Adolescents with Co-Occurring Brain Disorders and Substance Abuse Disorders”, Accessed 10 May 2015