Mental Health & Substance Abuse - What's the Link? | Health 101

Health 101

Understanding the Link between Mental Health and Substance Use

In 2014, 20.2 million people in the U.S. had a substance use problem and 7.9 million struggled both with drug use and mental illness1.

Having one of these conditions can affect your life and the lives of those around you. Having two of these conditions can make each condition harder to handle and treat. In some cases, having both problems can make the conditions even worse. Understanding the signs can help with the right treatment. It is also important to understand the link between drug abuse and mental health.


There are several reasons you may have substance use and mental health issues. The reasons have to do with changes in our brains caused by both conditions. Being aware of the link can help you better understand the warning signs.


Why does it occur?

Drug use and mental health issues affect the same parts of the brain. For example, the part of the brain that controls our mood and how we make choices may also be impacted by drugs. Drug addiction is a mental illness. It is a brain disease. Behaviors caused from changes in the brain caused by drugs can cause mental health issues. These changes occur in some of the same brain areas as mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, which is the most common issues for people with a drug issue. These conditions also affect each other. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse.


Many things cause both substance use and mental illness including stress, trauma, and childhood experiences. If someone already feels bad, they may try to feel better by using drugs, which can make the mental health situation worse. A glass of wine or two will not make a mental health problem worse, but if someone with mental health feels they are starting to turn to alcohol or drugs to get away from their other problems, they should talk to their doctor.


Being aware of the substance use and mental health connection is important in getting help. There are several treatment choices when fighting mental illness and addiction at once. Many patients sees a psychologist and a professional for behavioral treatment. These help address unhealthy choices that are often linked to substance abuse. Addressing both at once can help with a fresh start.


The bottom line is a drug issue can make a mental health issue worse. And a mental health issue can make a drug issue worse. Someone with both of these challenges needs treatment for both, at the same time, to get better. People who think they have both issues should tell their doctor.


There are many resources to call for help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline toll-free at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for treatment information, 24/7.






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