Relationship Between Mental Health Disorders and Addiction
The relationship between a mental health disorder and concurrent substance abuse is complex.
It can be difficult to properly identify a concurrent disorder, both for the person in question and those
Symptoms will be different for every person dealing with a concurrent disorder.
Substance use impacts a person’s state of mental health and one’s experience with mental health may impact
the substances that they choose to use (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
Substance use can exacerbate symptoms of mental health in a manner that is more severe than if the person did
not use illicit drugs.
Substances may also trigger/produce symptoms of mental health that a person otherwise would not have
experienced. An example of this is demonstrated when a person smokes marijuana and develops a psychotic
episode they may not have otherwise experienced (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
It is known that withdrawal from substances also contributes to a person’s exacerbation of mental health
symptoms. An example of this occurring is when a person is withdrawing from a stimulant dependence (e.g.
cocaine, methamphetamine) and experiences an intense “comedown,” distinguished with intense symptoms of
depression (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
It is common for states of substance use and withdrawal to both mimic and mask symptoms of mental health. As
an example, a person’s intoxication from a stimulant (e.g. cocaine) may present as similar to that of a
manic episode (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
Additionally, a person who experiences unbearable symptoms of depression may rely on a substance (e.g.
alcohol) to disguise how they are truly feeling, giving the illusion that they are “normal” under the
influence of their drug of choice (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
Similarly, a person with symptoms of social anxiety may self medicate with a substance to provide them with
the comfort of engaging in the context of their relationships and social settings.
As a central nervous depressent, alcohol is often used as a means to reduce symptoms of physiological arousal
that accompany anxiety and panic disorders (shortness of breath, excessive sweating, sense of impending
It is important to consider that over time alcohol can create permanent changes in the brain because it
reduces levels of serotonin, thereby bringing about symptoms of depression that may not have otherwise
existed or have been exacerbated (Distress and Crisis Ontario, 2019).
It is far too often that people with mental health problems and addiction experience stigma and
discrimination. It is of importance to understand the relationship between addiction and mental health, and
for you to be able to ask any questions you have in order to increase your awareness and sensitivity to the
reasons why people depend on substances to cope and what might be contributing to one’s challenges with
Research in the field of concurrent disorders indicates that there is a high prevalence of drug abuse and
dependence among individuals with mood and anxiety disorders.
More research in the field indicates that:
– For those with a dependence on alcohol, 44% will develop mental illness in
their lifetime, and with all other substance use disorders, 64.4% will also experience a mental
disorder at some point (El-Guabaly, N., 2004).
– The prevalence of people with an anxiety disorder developing a substance abuse
issue is 24% (Bartha et al., 2004).
– Approximately 27% of those with a diagnosis of major depression will experience
a substance use disorder at one point (Bartha et al., 2004).
– The percentage of those who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia to
substance use disorder over their lifetime is 47% (Bartha et al., 2004).
– 56% of individuals who have bi-polar disorder will encounter a substance use
disorder (Bartha et al., 2004).
Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction
People may use substances as a means to cope with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms (Van Dam, D. et al., 2013).
In the context of treatment for trauma and addiction, the outcome of reduced symptomatology of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) is associated with recovery from dependence on substances (Van Dam, D. et al., 2013).