Connection Between Substance Use Disorder and Mental Illness

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Last Updated on May 15, 2021 by Atif

Mental illness and substance abuse are directly or indirectly connected to the other with adverse effects to the user. Why might a person be drinking heavily when they are mentally ill? Neither the degree of correlation between the two terms is disputed by any informed party. The association between mental illness and substance abuse is apparent to the layman and visible to the professional. There are different types of mental illnesses with varying degrees of severity. Psychiatrists and substance abusers are often found in the same patient population. There might not be an explanation for this, but it might be the most peculiar thing about cases of mental illness, regardless of how vague the symptoms may be.

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published in the journal Science Focus, a relationship between mental illness and the consumption of addictive substances was demonstrated. It was observed that individuals suffering from a mental health disorder were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, including:

  • 40 per cent of cigarettes in the market
  • 44 per cent of cocaine
  • 38 per cent of alcohol retailed

The report also states that people with medically diagnosed psychological disorders consume alcohol and other drugs through addiction at some situation in their everyday lives, with the following proportion:

  • 68 per cent of cigarettes
  • 69 per cent of alcohol
  • 84 aper cent of cocaine

It’s common knowledge that substance abuse and mental disorders go hand in hand. Different combinations of causes and symptoms can occur, each leading to its own set of treatment options and Dual Diagnosis treatments. Can you help your loved one make the best choice for dual diagnosis treatment?

What Leads to Mental Illness and Substance Abuse?

Since we have authenticated that mental illness and substance abuse are related, let’s understand why. Mental illness is present when one’s mental state is not in its deemed standard form. A mental disease depicts any condition which causes severe disorder in a person’s behavior or thinking. Reactions to circumstances are more likely to be imbalanced or far from the norm. 

Some Examples of Mental Illnesses Include:

  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Dissociation
  • General Anxiety disorders
  • Tourettes Syndrome
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Mood Disorders

Mental illness and substance abuse mainly happens when a patient takes medication, alcohol, or toxicants without a prescription to attain the desired feeling. Most people abuse substances for recreational purposes. Once started on continuous use, they cannot do without regular doses. Most of these substances have addictive ingredients that cause abuse, like Nicotine in Tobacco.

Examples of Some Abused Substances are:

  • Pain Killer Medications
  • Marijuana
  • Sleeping Medications
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin 
  • Meth
  • Ecstacy
  • Crack

When a mentally ill person is most reasonable, they are aware of their illness. This awareness drives them to crave a feeling of behaving better. There becomes a growing need to overpower a mental illness with or without professional input. Inherently, patients seek various intoxicants or substances that can make them feel in control of their mental state. Hiding mental illness from people around, including your doctor, also makes substance abuse inherent.

Taking Self-Medication

Continuing the theme of the connection between mental illness and substance abuse, it is understandable that patients will seek out narcotics and alcohol to medicate their mental illnesses. This problem has been observed in some instances, including:

  • People who are depressed frequently use marijuana to block out those negative feelings. A person who consumes marijuana is more likely to feel euphoric or relaxed. In that case, it would help relieve depression. 
  • Another example of social anxiety is a patient who drinks in social situations to feel comfortable. Alcohol is a proven nerve relaxer for every drinker. Drinking alcohol can exacerbate social anxiety.
  • A benzodiazepine like Xanax and Valium may help anxiety attack patients calm their symptoms when they occur or shut off the attacks entirely by stopping anxiety attacks from starting in the first place.
  • However, a patient who takes the stimulants Adderall, crystal meth or cocaine to increase energy lacks motivation.
  • Sleeping pills are abused by some sleep-deprived patients who are aware of them and know they will enhance sleep.

A patient who does not learn to avoid these situations might eventually be driven to self-medicate. The notion of substance abuse implies that someone has been self-medicating in the strictest sense of the term. In this way, substance abuse will soon manifest itself in self-medication. It has been observed that self-medication is rather prevalent among people with a mental illness.

Increased Chances of Self Medication

Once a patient begins to see their medical issues as an opening to determine their treatment, it is only a matter of time before they start abusing substances that work for them. Whatever category a mentally ill person falls under, finding these substances to self-medicate is more detrimental than helpful. Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, marijuana, etc., are just temporary fixes. Underlying mental health symptoms can only get permanent solutions from professional medical treatments.

These medications do not address the underlying psychiatric difficulties because their effects are only instantaneous. Once the patient has reached this stage of development, she or he is more vulnerable to develop new health issues that will affect her or him in the long term. As a result, the severity of the mental health symptom or symptoms will be exaggerated, leading to a greater likelihood of severely manifesting the symptom.

Substance Abuse Effect as A Trigger of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

It Is Possible to Display Different Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions Because Some Mental Health Issues May Appear when They Are Not Present. Among Other Substances, One Can Abuse Any of The Following Common Substances. It Is Also Known that People Who Abuse Substances for A Long Period Gradually Develop Mental Illnesses. Other Drugs May Cause Psychological Symptoms to Arise Similar to Those Caused by Prescription Drugs.
It is often the case that diseases such as mental illnesses are caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, in addition to substance abuse.

Some Other Triggers of Mental Illness are:

  • Stress
  • Abuse 
  • A traumatic event
  • Family history

One Disorder Can Bring on The Symptoms of The Other

These substances can be toxic or contain toxic chemicals. Until recently, people thought they were eating regular food and were not getting any vitamins. Symptoms of an underlying illness may show up more intensely if the person can be under the drug’s influence. There have been cases where the abuser will possess symptoms of their disease due to the substances he or she abuses.


However, other substances such as vitamins and minerals can eliminate these symptoms. After consuming alcohol, an anxious person is calmed down and able to deal with social situations. Intoxicating substances are dangerous when they wear off. When a patient goes sober, anxiety symptoms may be at full force.

As a result of this information, we can see that these symptoms exist due to the co-occurrence of mental health disorders. Medical professionals use methods and forms that do not involve using these substances to treat mental illnesses and substance abuse can lead to many detrimental situations, even when used as a treatment for mental illness.

It Is Possible that This Could Happen in The Following Circumstances:

  • The likelihood of being harm by drugs and alcohol increases. The traumas associated with these events can lead to IBS, eating disorders, depression, and more.
  • Drunk patients may make bad decisions, harder for them to handle, and struggle with panic
  • Many substances have the side-effect of reinforcing sexual desire, which can result in unprotected sexual activity or needle sharing. AIDS or Hepatitis can be passed on from someone else to the patient, putting the patient at risk. In addition to being crushed under severe depression as well as grief, it will also be accompanied by a struggle to deal with the life-altering consequences of contracting various other diseases.
  • It is common for depression symptoms to emerge from the effects of some drugs, and over time, they may become evident enough to cause persons to notice they are suffering from this illness.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis and Getting Treatment

Treatment of substance abuse and mental ill-health are inherent aspects of some patients’ treatment that need to be accommodated. Dual diagnosis refers to a condition in which an individual has both mental health problem and substance abuse problem, such as someone diagnosed with dual disorders. This further strengthens the connection between the two illnesses, which function as a pair to alleviate those who suffer from them.
The patient must be aware that both afflictions must be treated simultaneously to treat them effectively. In case a patient is being treated for one disorder after another, the treatment for one will leave the patient with the symptom of the depression disorder. Left untreated, psychiatric disorders like depression are more likely to induce substance abuse or lead to death. Mental health diagnosis of substance abuse (ADD/ADHD) could render mental health treatment ineffective.

Connection Between Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health Treatment

It is important to note that Mental illness has different treatments than substance abuse disorder treatment. When a mentally ill person begins to self-medicate, the medical professionals have separate health issues to tackle.

Also notable is that the disease combinations developing from mental illness and substance abuse are quite a number. These combinations will progress from their unique causes to their symptoms. If a patient is depressed, he may indulge in sleeping medication to stay unconscious more of the time. Another depressed patient may choose to take a Crack dose to boost their mood and energy level.

Some patients are bipolar and may abuse alcohol to calm their central nervous system, and another bipolar patient may indulge in cocaine abuse which has opposite effects. A medical professional would see these cases as unique, and they treat them as such. Summarily, the appropriate intervention and Dual Diagnosis treatment methods depend on what mental illness(s) are present and what substances they have been abusing. 

If you or someone you care for is suffering from Dual Diagnosis, don’t wait to call for help they definitely need. Even if you are dealing with either mental illness and substance abuse, we’re here to help you. Our medical professionals can help determine the proper treatment. Every case is peculiar, and the combinations of programs, treatment, and medication for recovery will differ. Contact us via 615-490-9376 today. Remember, the longer you wait, the deeper the menace of mental illness and substance abuse afflicts the body.