Why Your Mental Health Issues & Risk for Addiction Are Connected

Several studies have revealed a definite connection between the development of mental health issues and long-term substance abuse. In this article, we will delve into the ways cognitive problems can influence a person’s risk for drug addiction.

According to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, individuals with mental health disorders are more likely to consume alcohol (38%), cocaine (44%), and cigarettes (40%). Even legal and seemingly harmless substances could contribute to lasting damage on a person’s overall health condition.

Dual Diagnosis: The Key to Bridging the Connection

Dual diagnosis is the practice of treating people who suffer from both addiction (substance, sex, alcohol, or gambling) and psychiatric health disorders (such as borderline personality disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, schizophrenia, or panic disorder).

Examples of a dual diagnosis include:

  • An alcoholic suffering from a clinical depression
  • A cocaine user with bipolar disorder
  • A bulimic with a borderline personality disorder

These mental health conditions may not be realized by the individuals themselves because their judgment can become clouded by their individual addictions. If their mental health disorder remains undiagnosed or untreated for too long, it will likely be the cause of an untimely demise.

Dual Diagnosis Assessment

It is necessary to first identify the signs and symptoms of a dual condition so immediate treatment can be provided to prevent the escalation of the mental health disorder, as well as the addiction.

Some of the basic steps in determining a dual diagnosis:

  • Presence of a psychiatric disorder
  • History of substance use that negatively affects psychiatric health, relationships, work, and leisure activities
  • History of violence, suicidal ideation, and a risk of danger posed to themselves or others
  • Financial resources/insurance to support ongoing treatment
  • Motivated to undergo rehabilitation with a strong support system of friends and family

Common Mental Health Disorders

Any number of mental health disorders can be linked to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The most commonly diagnosed mental health problems treated in addiction rehab centers include (but are not limited to):

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness, which involves swift and irregular mood swings perceived as extreme highs and lows. Symptoms of mania and depression vary across individuals.

During the highs of bipolar disorder, a person may feel extremely happy and exude a vivacious and likeable personality. When a bipolar sufferer undergoes the lows, they may exhibit restlessness, fatigue, and disinterest in their favorite activities. These dramatic mood swings may be dangerous if left untreated since people with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to developing a drug addiction. Co-occurring mental health disorders usually exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder.


Clinical depression should be differentiated from normal and circumstantial feelings of sadness that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Clinical depression is a medical condition wherein the individual is not able to properly cope with feelings of frustration, anger, or disappointment.

Common signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased energy
  • Short-tempered
  • Insomnia

The chronic depressive disorder is an extreme mental health condition which can progress to suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. The depressed individual fails to see any hope in any situation, good or bad. Instead of finding a solution, a clinically depressed person might choose to sulk until they reach the point of considering the end of their lives.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

You may have seen people who feel some kind of satisfaction in doing things repeatedly, such as tapping or clicking. This is a visible manifestation of an OCD diagnosis.

People with OCD have an extreme inclination to perform a specific task, like incessantly organizing their space or becoming obsessed with objects.

Most individuals with OCD are made aware of their behavior as the condition starts to physically drain them. In the attempt to divert their thoughts away from their compulsive behavior, they may eventually turn to drugs.

OCD may be treated through psychological rehabilitation and supervised medication-assisted therapy. People with an OCD diagnosis should never attempt to self-medicate.

More About Co-Occurring Disorders

A dual diagnosis is difficult to treat because of the need to identify the source of symptoms before determining an appropriate treatment plan. Treating a dual diagnosis usually requires more time than simply addressing either a mental health disorder or a substance addiction. It is the responsibility of addiction treatment specialists to conduct thorough preliminary examinations before prescribing any therapy or drug.

Individuals with mental health conditions have a high risk of developing a drug addiction. These people will try any “solution” to curb their symptoms. For example, someone who is clinically depressed may try cocaine to achieve happy, enjoyable sensations unlike what they normally feel.

Treatment plans should be customized for each patient. No two individuals fall on the same spot along the spectrum of mental health and addiction. Therefore, every patient’s response to the treatment given will vary.

Treatment for Mental Health and Drug Addiction

Traditional treatment like 12-step programs may not be the most advisable method of treating an individual with co-occurring conditions. While there are different sets of treatment for each condition, an individual has a better chance of preventing a drug relapse if they’re on a personalized care plan.

Relapse is common during the recovery process. It is estimated more than 90% of those embarking on recovery have “slipped” at least once before finally achieving lasting sobriety.

Relapse, however, does not happen upon initial exposure of drugs or alcohol. Behavioral changes and feelings are responsible for the slow “creep” of relapse. Relapse can be prevented, and “slips” are always treatable.

Staying sober is difficult, and the key to overcoming addiction is the ability to recognize personal warning signs to prevent a full-blown relapse:

  • Elevated stress
  • Change in attitude
  • Denial
  • Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms
  • Loss of judgment
  • Behavioral changes
  • Isolation
  • Shame and guilt


Successful treatment of mental health disorders and addiction depends on the individual’s motivation to recover, the kind of treatment provided, and the integrity of their support system. If you or someone you love needs help for an addiction or a mental health issue, get in touch with a reputable treatment center who can evaluate the best options for you.

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