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Substance abuse and mental illness are closely linked, with substance use often being both a symptom and a cause of mental health issues.

People who suffer from certain mental disorders may turn to substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism or to self-medicate their symptoms. In some cases, substance abuse can lead to the development of mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.

Fortunately, treatment is available for those struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental illnesses. Treatment typically involves medication management, psychotherapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes designed to help individuals manage their conditions in healthy ways.

What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse is the excessive and potentially dangerous use of substances, especially alcohol, and drugs, for non-medical purposes. It can lead to physical and psychological problems such as:

  • Addiction
  • Liver damage
  • Heart problems
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • And even death

Substance abuse can range from occasional recreational use to more severe dependency cases. Treatment options like this opioid treatment center at can be helpful when you are struggling with dependency or addiction. We will discuss some more treatment options below, such as:

  • Therapy
  • Support groups
  • Medications
  • Toxification programs
  • Sobriety homes

How is mental illness connected to substance abuse?

Mental illness and substance abuse are closely linked. People with mental illness often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. Substance abuse can worsen the symptoms of any mental health condition, making it more difficult to manage.

Additionally, long-term substance use can lead to addiction, which can cause further mental health issues like psychosis. Individuals who experience both mental illness and substance abuse require comprehensive treatment options that address both conditions simultaneously.

Symptoms of substance abuse

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse can vary depending on the type of substance used but may include:

  • Changes in mood or behaviour
  • Paranoia or anxiety
  • Increased aggression or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities or relationships
  • Legal trouble
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Money problems due to spending too much on drugs or alcohol
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment for substance abuse typically includes various methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medically assisted therapy (MAT), or a combination of both.

Each of these treatments could be included in programs such as:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can help individuals understand the underlying causes of their substance use and develop strategies to cope with associated mental health issues.
  • Medication: Medications can be used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings and address any underlying mental health conditions that may have contributed to substance use.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy helps individuals learn from one another's experiences, establish healthy relationships with others in recovery, and develop coping skills. Support
  • Groups: Support groups provide a safe place to share their experiences with other recovering individuals, find hope and encouragement, and build social networks.
  • Inpatient/Residential Treatment: For some individuals, an inpatient or residential treatment program may be necessary to remain abstinent while they work through the recovery process.

What kind of mental disorders often lead to addiction?

Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder can sometimes lead to addiction.  Studies show that these conditions can cause individuals to self-medicate to alleviate their symptoms, which eventually leads to substance abuse. Other addiction-related mental health issues include ADHD, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

Let’s take a look at the different mental disorders and their relation to substance abuse and addiction.


Someone with depression may turn to substance abuse to cope with their symptoms. Alcohol and drugs can temporarily numb their emotional pain and relieve the negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression.

However, this relief is usually short-lived and can lead to the following:

  • Long-term health problems
  • Further strained relationships
  • Financial hardship

 Additionally, alcohol and drugs can worsen the symptoms of depression if used in excess.


Anxiety disorders are associated with an increased risk of substance abuse, as individuals may turn to substances such as alcohol and drugs to relieve their feelings of tension or stress.

Substance abuse can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and increase the risk of developing a long-term addiction, leading to further decline in physical and mental health.

Treatment for anxiety disorders often includes:

  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle changes
  • And occasionally hospitalization

However, concurrent treatment for substance abuse is also needed in many cases.


People with PTSD often turn to substance abuse as a means to cope with their memories and feelings of trauma. Alcohol and drugs can provide short-term relief from the symptoms of PTSD, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperarousal
  • Flashbacks

Alcohol and drugs can worsen the symptoms of PTSD if used in excess. 


Studies have found that adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are likelier to abuse substances than those without the disorder. While alcohol and drugs may temporarily relieve symptoms such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Forgetfulness


People with schizophrenia are at an increased risk for substance abuse. While alcohol and drugs may temporarily relieve symptoms such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thinking

This form of self-medication can lead to long-term health problems and further impair functioning. 

Personality disorder

People with personality disorders are at an increased risk for substance abuse. Alcohol and drugs may temporarily relieve impulsiveness, aggression, and mood instability.

However, it is important to note that this is not a sustainable form of medication and could lead to further problems.

Get treatment today

Substance abuse and mental illness are often intertwined. People with depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, or personality disorders may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms. Unfortunately, this can lead to long-term health problems and further impair functioning. 

Fortunately, there is help available for those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues; treatment plans typically include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes in addition to concurrent substance abuse treatment. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with substance abuse related to a mental disorder, it’s important to seek professional help today – the sooner, the better!

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