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The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Addiction

August 31, 2020
In the not-so-distant past, addiction was classified as a moral affliction and addicts were viewed as bad people who were selfish, rather than as people who were suffering from a physical and mental illness.
With years of research, there is now a better understanding of how addiction works, showing that it is a progressive and chronic disease of the brain. Addiction is also sometimes referred to as a substance use disorder. More recent studies have shown that there is a high instance of mental illness in individuals that suffer from substance abuse disorders. This discovery leads us to question if there is a relationship or even causation between mental illness and addiction.

Can Addiction Be considered a Mental Disorder?

Since the 1980s, research has shown that addiction has a high rate of co-occurring with other mental illnesses. Co-occurring disorder refers to the instances of two diagnose occurring in one individual. Research also indicates that those who suffer from addiction are twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness.
Addiction could be considered a mental illness, but due to the physical nature of addiction, it cannot be classified as merely a mental disorder. Part of the disease is psychological, so individuals who suffer from addiction will exhibit psychological symptoms as well as the physical symptoms of chemical dependence.

How Mental Illness and Addiction are Related

When it comes to psychological symptoms, those who suffer from addiction have a disrupted hierarchy of needs and priorities. This is suggested by their tendency to regularly act against their own self-interests. The individual demonstrates this through the habitual substance abuse despite the many consequences, such as the decline in health and the potential for legal repercussions.
Addicts become unable to control their impulses, which is a common symptom of many other mental illnesses. Another important fact to note is that substance abuse causes changes to the levels of the neurochemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. Mood disorders also typically cause an imbalance in these types of chemicals and will often require medication to correct the imbalance, showing a clear overlap between addiction and mental illness.
Co-occurring mental illness rates are higher among those who suffer from drug addiction, at 72%, compared to those with alcoholism at 45%. For those with alcoholism, up to 67% of individuals are diagnosed with a depressive disorder, and 75% of opioid-dependent individuals have a similar diagnosis.
Another theory is that a co-occurring diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder can increase an individual’s likelihood of drug or alcohol abuse. Reports from treatment providers show that 20 0 45% of individuals in recovery for addiction were diagnosed with co-occurring PTSD.
Researchers suggest that individuals who develop a drug or alcohol addiction may trigger symptoms of a mental health disorder. Another idea is that mental illness could trigger substance abuse, which then develops into addiction. This can be seen in the tendency of trauma or violent crime victims to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
There may also be overlapping risk factors such as biological anomalies, the involvement of similar areas of the brain, environmental triggers, or factors related to adolescent development that lead to substance use disorder. In summary, addiction could cause mental illness, it could be caused by mental illness, or it may develop on its own due to risk other overlapping factors.

Mental Health and Recovery Go Hand in Hand

At South Hills Recovery Project, we can not only help you treat substance use disorder, but we also have the tools to provide you with mental health treatment to ensure you receive the proper care and comprehensive treatment you need.
Contact us today to learn more.