mental illness and substance abuseAlcohol, drug abuse and mental health disorders are fundamentally linked. Although the question many people ask is whether addiction causes mental illness or if it’s the other way around, the answer is more complex than that. Substance use disorders have a range of causes, including genetic, social, environmental and lifestyle factors, and so do mental health conditions. They tend to interact with one another, and sometimes one makes the other worse.

If you or someone you love is in turmoil because of drug or alcohol use, help is at hand. By helping you overcome the substance use disorder, Changing Tides can get you in a better position to address your mental health. In some cases, addiction treatment eases the symptoms of mild anxiety or depression, but you must see a specialist in case of an ongoing mental health diagnosis.

Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

While substance use disorders and mental health conditions inarguably make each other worse, it’s not clear if one causes the other. What is known is that people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to self-medicate with alcohol or drug use. Some of the common mental health conditions we see alongside alcohol and drug addiction include: 

  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • ADHD
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Mood disorders
  • Other serious mental illness

Do Substance Use Disorders Cause Mental Health Issues?

Substance use disorders can lead to imbalances of the neurotransmitters that keep your brain working optimally. Drug and alcohol abuse also damage the central nervous system, which is responsible for regulating vital functions like sleeping, motivation and movement. These factors, combined with genetics and environment, can present as similar to mental illness. In some cases, substance abuse disorders can cause mental health conditions such as psychosis and anxiety.

However, it’s important to note that the correlation between drug and alcohol addiction and mental health is much more complex. Some people use substances to cover up existing mental health conditions, while others develop an addiction without any underlying mental health condition. Additionally, many people who struggle with mental illness don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.

Diagnostic Challenges

Diagnosing mental health conditions when they co-occur with addiction is particularly challenging in instances where similar symptoms present. Alcoholism and depression are a good example of this. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, so it dulls the brain’s ability to respond to and control CNS stimulation. 

Therapists who aren’t experienced in diagnosing co-occurring mental illness might miss the additional symptoms that present alongside the addiction. While alcohol can lead to depression over time, there are certain individuals who are simultaneously and separately experiencing the medical condition.

Without the correct diagnosis, effective treatment isn’t possible. If treatment providers focus solely on addressing the alcoholism, the counseling and medication offered could make the depression worse, and vice versa.   

Can Addiction Treatment Centers Treat Comorbidity?

Mental illnesses are serious conditions, just like addiction. As such, they require treatment from health care professionals who specialize in that field. The best course of action for someone who suspects a dual diagnosis is to get sober first. Substance use disorders can mimic the symptoms of mental illness and make getting an accurate mental health diagnosis very tricky. 

We recommend that someone who struggles with addiction and is concerned about their mental health checks into rehab and gets sober. That way, they’re in a position to assess their mental state with a clear head. Of course, if someone has a severe concern about their health, they should seek professional care immediately.

Can You Treat Both Conditions Simultaneously?

In most cases, it’s advisable that individuals with a dual diagnosis treat the substance use disorder and mental health condition separately. Drugs and alcohol have a profound impact on the brain, influencing the central nervous system and contributing to imbalances in vital neurotransmitters. Exciting or depressing the CNS can lead to symptoms that are similar to depression, anxiety or other mood disorders. 

In some cases, it’s possible to treat the above conditions in a rehab center. However, if addiction treatment uncovers deeper underlying issues, you’ll need to seek counseling or therapy specifically for those reasons. Alcohol or drug rehab helps most people understand themselves and their motivations better, freeing them from cyclical addictive behavior. By the end of a course of treatment, it’s usually clear if there’s more work to be done, and the team at Changing Tides can help you with next steps.

Addiction treatment helps people get closer to the root cause of underlying mental health conditions in the following ways:


Detox clears your system of toxins, leaving your mind and body free to focus on healing. At Changing Tides, we can help individuals with mild, moderate and severe substance use disorders to get through the acute withdrawal stages with minimal discomfort. If you have a co-occurring mental health condition, care providers will have to be extra-careful about any medications they use for future treatment. 

Therapy and Psychoeducation

The major components for overcoming both mental illness and addiction are therapy and psychoeducation. The former helps you understand yourself better so you can learn about your triggers and put new coping mechanisms in place. Therapists help you to think and act in ways that are conducive to health and long-term recovery. Psychoeducation helps you understand the processes at work during addiction so you can separate yourself from the disease.

Personal Ownership

In addition to the help of a team of addiction specialists and a strong support network, there’s one person who’s most important for a successful recovery: you. While having a predisposition to addiction or being diagnosed with a mental health condition is a setback, you can overcome it. However, this requires hard work, effort and, most importantly, self-belief. Your counselor will help to empower you so you can take personal responsibility for your life moving forward.

Addiction and Mental Illness Are Treatable

If you’d like to speak to an addiction specialist about substance use disorders and mental health, call Changing Tides today at 252-715-3905

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