evaluation for intake with co-occurring disorderThere is an unfortunate stigma attached to substance abuse disorders that stems from the fact that people who don’t understand the condition struggle to see why someone who’s addicted wouldn’t just stop. If it were that simple, the condition wouldn’t exist, and there would be no need for rehab! While the stigma surrounding mental health problems is almost a thing of the past, many people still don’t understand the intricate link between substance use and mental health.

According to reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 50% of people with serious mental health problems abuse substances at some point. It also states that 53% of drug abusers and 37% of alcohol abusers are also suffering from at least one other form of mental illness. There are many reasons why people with mental health problems turn to substances, but ultimately, they only make the condition worse and more challenging to treat.

Is Addiction Itself a Mental Illness?

According to science, substance use disorders fall into the category of a mental health disorder. This is why the disease appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That means that if you’re suffering from addiction, you have a mental health condition.

To complicate matters, many people with other preexisting mental health issues turn to drug or alcohol abuse as a way of numbing the pain. Some drugs can also cause you to develop a mental health condition that hadn’t presented itself previously.

The turmoil, angst and isolation that go hand in hand with mental health disorders can drive you to turn to the distracting, mind-numbing effects of psychoactive substances. While it may feel as if you’re self-medicating, you’re burying the preexisting condition deeper in your psyche. There may be times when you’re high that you can forget all about your problems. However, every substance abuser knows that when the effects wear off, you feel at least 10 times worse.

Young People, Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Both mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders can have a genetic component. Not everyone with these predispositions will go on to develop the conditions; it’s usually a series of events that happen in your life that trigger them. There isn’t one gene or environmental cause but a unique mix that occurs in each individual.

Young people’s minds are also more vulnerable to addiction because the parts of the brain that deal with planning and foresight haven’t fully developed. One of the most prevalent risk factors for someone developing an addiction is starting to use substances at an early age, usually during adolescence. This is also often the time when symptoms of mental health conditions begin presenting themselves, so it’s a critical time to seek treatment and avoid problems in the future.

If you’re a young person who is struggling with a mental health problem or you’re a parent or caregiver, understand that teenagers often find it difficult to express what they are going through or admit their insecurities in a clinical setting. It’s important to not think of a young person’s drug or alcohol use as a phase they’ll grow out of. Early substance abuse can signal the beginning of a pattern of using substances to cover up emotional issues.

Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Feed Each Other

For a long time, it was difficult for doctors to fully understand whether drugs caused mental health issues or were a symptom of them.

Effects of Certain Drugs on Mental Health


Heroin is extremely addictive. In the short term, it offers pain relief, euphoria and intense relaxation. If you become addicted to heroin, you won’t physically be able to function without it. You’ll feel anxious, have trouble sleeping and get sick. Long term, it affects the parts of your brain that are responsible for happiness and pleasure, including areas that produce dopamine and endorphins.


For some people, alcohol is incredibly addictive. It can make being around people feel easier and effectively blot out difficult emotions. Many people who are addicted to booze even feel as if they wouldn’t be able to sleep without it. In the short term, you can experience withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get a drink. Long term, it can change the brain’s chemistry, diminishing the availability of vital neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.


Tranquilizers, such as sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepines, can be helpful as short-term solutions to medical problems. When used for more than four weeks, they can cause physical and psychological addiction, as well as withdrawal symptoms when you stop. They directly impact your central nervous system, so long-term use can cause severe damage to your mental health.


Amphetamine and methamphetamine have a direct effect on your dopamine centers, so long-term use can deplete the supply you naturally have available. These drugs can also bring on anxiety and depression and negatively affect areas of your life, which can trigger mental health issues, such as poor work performance or financial difficulty.


Although the specific mechanisms are quite different from amphetamines, cocaine also causes a rush of dopamine. This means your body uses up its stores of this motivating, feel-good chemical in your brain. Chronic cocaine use is also linked to depression and anxiety.


Ecstasy causes a massive influx of the happy chemical in our brains, serotonin. People often experience a severe comedown after using this drug, which shares many similarities with depression.


This drug has an extreme mind-altering effect that can last for up to 16 hours. In many ways, the high itself mimics a psychotic state, with hallucinations and detachment from reality. While LSD isn’t addictive, long-term use is linked to mental health problems.

Get the Help You Need

When a mental health condition goes undiagnosed, treating addiction is much harder. Diagnosing and addressing mental health issues can be a significant factor in moving away from substance abuse and towards long-term recovery. New Day Recovery is the leading mental health rehab center in Ohio. To speak to one of our experts about how we can help you, call us today at 330-953-3300.