Comorbility Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Comorbility Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Research indicates that there is a considerable rate of comorbidity between mental illness and addiction. However, it does not necessarily imply that one condition contributes to the other. Instead, one needs to consider several factors, since people with mental health issues might use alcohol and illegal drugs to:


One might use alcohol or drugs to reduce hallucinations, tension, sleep problems, depressions, anxiety, and side effects of medicines.

Feel better

One might use harmful substances since they help them to feel more accepted and comfortable. Therefore, one might feel as if they are not suffering from any mental problem.

Although substance abuse might make one feel better for a limited period, heavy or regular use can worsen their mental health problems with time. That means they might find themselves in the middle of a cycle of substance abuse. In particular, substances harm one’s relationships and health and worsen their symptoms. However, if you wish to find out the relationship between substance abuse and mental health, you can continue to read this guide:

Common co-occurring disorders

One can find several mental complications that are commonly associated with substance abuse, including:


Anxiety refers to inappropriate and excessive fear of everyday events and situations. In some cases, people who struggle with anxiety tend to abuse substances to help in easing such feelings. The common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Jumpiness
  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness, trembling, and nausea
  • Focused on worse case scenarios
  • Constantly feeling on edge


It implies a debilitating condition that clouds the judgment of a sufferer and limits them from enjoying their life. Depressed people might use depressants to numb pain or stimulants to feel good. In reality, such drugs worsen depression. The signs of depression include:

  • Unable to experience pleasure
  • Feeling unworthy and guilty
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Loss of energy

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is grouped into I and II. The person should have a previous major depressive depression and experience at least one manic episode to be classified under bipolar I disorder. In contrast, bipolar II encompasses at least one episode of hypomania, but the most dominant state is depression. The symptoms of hypomania include:

  • Distractibility
  • Abnormally wired, jumpy, or upbeat
  • Poor decision-making, including making foolish investments, taking sexual risks, or going buying sprees.
  • Racing thoughts
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • An exaggerated sense of self-confidence (euphoria) and well-being
  • Increased activity, agitation, or energy

Other conditions such as borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia are related to drug addiction.

Risk factors for substance abuse and mental illness

Mental illness and substance abuse have a complex relationship which is challenging to disentangle their overlapping symptoms. Below are the common risks which contribute to substance abuse and the development of mental illness.

Adverse childhood experiences and trauma: Post-traumatic stress from emotional/physical abuse during childhood or war exposes one to the risk of abusing drugs, making it difficult for one to recover from a substance use disorder.

Stress: Substantial amounts of stress can result in reduced impulsivity and behavioral control, contributing to substance abuse or mental health issues.

Brain region involvement– Mental illnesses and addictive substances affect the same parts of the brain. They might change the neurotransmitter systems implicated in mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

Epigenetic influences and genetic vulnerabilities- Genes that influence the brain components’ actions that carry messages between neurons such as serotonin and dopamine might be affected by harmful substances and dysregulated in mental illness. The environment of a person, such as the one that contributes to chronic stress and diet, can interact with biological mechanisms and genetic vulnerabilities that trigger addiction-related behavior or mood disorders.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders

For several decades, therapists have used an integrated treatment model to treat substance abuse, which co-occurs with a mental health disorder. In particular, the treatment encompasses cognitive behavioral therapy that boosts coping and interpersonal skills and approaches that support a functional recovery and maintain motivation. In cases where evidence demonstrates that medications help treat drug abuse disorders, therapists use them and other medications that help manage and treat mental health conditions. If you wish to view more, you can look at the Infinite Recovery site.

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M Ateeq