Are mental health issues related to substance abuse? Studies show that people who suffer from mental issues like depression and anxiety are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. Moreover, addictions can contribute to the development of several mental health disorders.

Medical experts conducted several studies that show that there are 7.7 million adults who deal with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues. In addition, out of 20.3 million adults who battle addiction, 37.9% suffer from mental disorders.

As a result, integrating primary mental health care with substance abuse treatments benefit patients in various ways. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol because of mental disorders can have their trauma treated, so they can better cope with whatever made them consider substance abuse in the first place. Moreover, those who live in stable environments can overcome their addiction issues.

This article will explain the connection between mental health and addiction treatments to offer patients the best recovery opportunity. So, keep reading to learn more about this topic.

Mental Health

Table of Contents

Understanding Co-occurring Disorders

As a recovering patient or family member of someone who’s trying to overcome their addiction, it’s crucial to understand how co-occurring disorders can negatively impact the recovery journey of an addict.

Definition of Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders refer to mental health issues that combine with substance abuse issues. Several mental health issues can trigger substance abuse. Moreover, addiction can cause more serious mental health issues due to substance abuse. In this case, the patient is said to have a dual diagnosis.

Common Mental Health Disorders Associated With Addiction

According to this study, 9.2 million adults suffer from a co-occurring disorder. Multiple issues can trigger patients to abuse drugs and alcohol. At the same time, these mental health conditions can get worse with substance abuse. Here are some of these mental health issues.


ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood and is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders. Several studies show that there’s a strong relationship between ADHD and substance abuse. As a matter of fact, this condition is five to ten times more common in alcoholics. In addition, out of those who deal with substance abuse, 25% already suffer from ADHD.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is the feeling of discomfort that people experience due to childhood traumas or problems faced during adolescence or adulthood. People often return to alcohol and drugs to relieve their symptoms of fear and sadness. However, overusing these substances often makes anxiety symptoms get worse.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

BDD is a common mental health condition where patients worry much about how they look. People with body dysmorphic disorder usually resort to substance and alcohol abuse to cope with their emotional distress. In one study, 68% of people battling addiction admitted that BDD contributed to their addiction.

Bipolar Disorder

This brain disorder causes mood swings and changes in activity levels. According to a study, people who suffer from bipolar disorder have a 21.7% to 59% higher risk of abusing drugs.


Depression affects how you feel, think, and act. Its common symptoms include constant sadness and a lack of interest in enjoyable activities. Patients turn to substance abuse to deal with these symptoms and make themselves feel better. However, alcohol and drugs intensify feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and sadness.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a mental health issue where patients have intrusive thoughts. Patients deal with obsessive thoughts, images, or urges that can prevent them from living normally. A study showed that about 36.7% of OCD patients have a substance abuse problem.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are conditions in which the patient differs significantly from normal and healthy people. These disorders are divided into three clusters and include several issues, including paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and avoidant personality disorder. People who don’t know how to cope with these disorders are more likely to suffer from a substance abuse problem.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is something that people develop after experiencing a stressful event. Those who suffer from PTSD are more likely to experience substance abuse as they try to cope with their traumas.

Relationship Between Mental Health Disorders and Addiction

There’s a close relationship between mental health disorders and addiction. A lot of medical experts believe that mental disorders can trigger addiction. At the same time, substance abuse can make their symptoms worse. Several elements characterize this relationship.

Self-Medication Hypothesis

Clinical observations show that people usually experience substance abuse as they notice that some drugs can relieve some of their painful symptoms. Patients try to self-regulate their symptoms, and after experiencing some comfort and relief, they increase their doses, eventually developing a drug dependency.

Shared Risk Factors

Substance abuse and some mental health disorders share some risk factors. These include traumatic childhood events, a family history of mental illness, living in an environment that lacks structure or laws, poverty, high-drug availability, and low self-esteem.

Influence of Substance Use on Mental Health Symptoms

Substance abuse affects the same brain areas that trigger mental health disorders. So, although patients might experience some initial temporary relief, their symptoms usually get worse without treatments.

Integrated Treatment Approaches for Co-occurring Disorders

Integrated treatments are provided by the same medical team to treat both mental health issues and the symptoms of substance abuse.

Importance of Addressing Both Mental Health and Substance Use Issues

A person who is trying to overcome their substance abuse should have their mental health issues treated. Without addressing their mental health disorder, their substance abuse problem usually worsens as they can’t give up their dependency due to the comfort alcohol and drugs provide.

Benefits of Integrated Treatment Approaches

Integrated treatments are beneficial because they address substance abuse problems and mental health issues at the same time. These treatments are crucial because of the way the two issues relate and interact with each other. Leaving one untreated probably means the other issue won’t be resolved. These treatments can provide the following benefits.

  • Symptoms management
  • Support and involvement of family members
  • Reduce the risk of relapse
  • Decrease hospitalization time

Components of Effective Integrated Treatment Programs

Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment, or IDDT, is meant to improve the quality of life for those who have co-occurring mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Evidence-Based Therapies

EBT or evidence-based practice involves the application of research-based treatments to treat co-occurring disorders.

Medication Management

Therapists use several medications to manage the withdrawal symptoms of drugs and alcohol. Moreover, these medications can also help manage the symptoms of several mental health issues.


IDDTs involve several family psychoeducation sessions to educate family members and friends about substance abuse and mental disorder symptoms. This way, they can provide the needed support to help patients recover.

Relapse Prevention and Aftercare Planning

Relapse prevention is one of the main goals of IDDT. This goal can be achieved by identifying recovery goals and triggers, knowing the warning signs, and taking action.

Types of Mental Health Therapies in Addiction Treatment

Therapists are constantly working on developing various treatment options to treat mental disorders and substance abuse. These treatments can help improve their physical and emotional symptoms and prevent relapse.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is used to address several psychological and emotional problems that lead to multiple mental health symptoms. This therapy type aims at changing the person’s beliefs and how these beliefs affect their thoughts and actions. Using CBT, the therapist can make a person identify their traumas and triggers and change the way they feel and think about them.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of CBT that analyzes the patient’s thought process. DBT helps the patient identify negative thoughts and teaches them positive behavioral changes. At the same time, it can help the patient develop future plans to deal with stressful situations.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

This therapy technique focuses on identifying the patient’s essential beliefs and dealing with them to treat mental health disorders and substance abuse. In MI, the therapist and the patient work as a team by highlighting their desire to stay sober. It reduces the risk of relapse by making the patient part of the treatment.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR focuses on analyzing core traumatic events and memories and healing them as they contribute to the progress of substance abuse disorders and mental health issues. This therapy consists of several sessions that aim to help a patient process their unresolved traumas that eventually contribute to their substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Family Therapy and Support

Family-targeted therapy and support aim at improving communication between family members and helping resolve issues that might have contributed to substance abuse and the worsening of mental health issue symptoms. In most cases, each individual meets with the therapist alone to discuss their role in supporting the recovering addict.

Medication Management for Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders complicate diagnosis, and doctors usually prescribe medications to help improve addiction and mental disorder symptoms.

Role of Medications in Treating Mental Health and Addiction

Medications change brain chemicals and improve the symptoms of mental issues. By doing so, they can improve the results of complementary therapy strategies like sessions. Several medications can also relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce the desire to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Common Medications for Co-occurring Disorders

Patients with co-occurring disorders are more prone to relapse because some of them self-medicate to relieve their mental disorder symptoms. Here are some of the most common medications.

  • Buprenorphine-Naloxone is potent for the detoxification and maintenance of opioid dependence.
  • Buprenorphine Hydrochloride is used to treat opioid dependence in pregnant patients and those who suffer from liver problems.
  • Naltrexone can be used to treat alcohol and opioid abuse by reducing cravings.
  • Varenicline reduces nicotine cravings.

Considerations for Medication Management in Addiction Treatment

Using medications to treat co-occurring disorders involves the cooperation between doctors and therapists to create a beneficial plan that would help patients manage their addiction and get over their mental disorder symptoms.

Nevertheless, several considerations should be thought of before providing recovering addicts with some helpful medications since most of these drugs are classified by the DEA schedule and should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision.

First, any current health issues should be considered, as some of these drugs have serious side effects. The patient’s age and other medications should be considered to ensure that these medications don’t contradict each other.

The Role of Support Systems in Mental Health and Addiction Recovery

Having a good support system is crucial for addiction recovery, as it provides encouragement to fight off cravings, helps patients stay motivated, and motivates them to overcome traumas that cause mental health issues and can trigger substance abuse.

Importance of Family and Social Support in Treatment

Family support plays a significant role in motivating patients to seek therapy and adhere to their treatment plans. The risk of relapse significantly decreases with the help of an understanding family and an encouraging support group.

Support Groups and Peer-Based Programs

Peer support provides recovering addicts with non-clinical assistance by interacting with people who go through similar struggles in alcohol and drug-free environments.

Building Healthy Coping Skills and Support Networks

Support groups and networks help addicts learn new coping skills to deal with their substance and alcohol abuse. These include relaxing techniques, learning to wait before responding, practicing mindfulness, and exercising to stay healthy.

Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Treatment in Addiction Recovery

Many substance and alcohol abusers realize they need help but don’t seek therapy. Unfortunately, this is more common in patients who suffer from mental health issues, and who are also more likely to relapse before completing a treatment program.

Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and Addiction

Some patients who struggle with mental health issues are called dangerous, and this social stigma decreases their willingness to seek help and get treated for mental disorders and substance abuse. Patients also fear that social stigma can influence how healthcare providers deal with them.

Limited Availability of Integrated Treatment Programs

Despite the importance of integrated treatment programs, they’re not available to everyone. These programs should be personalized and tailored to cater to the needs of every patient. So, some patients might not find the right programs to deal with their mental disorder symptoms and substance abuse.

Financial Barriers and Insurance Coverage

Addiction treatment can cost thousands of dollars, and integrated treatments that combine dealing with substance abuse and treating mental disorders require weekly sessions that cost several hundred dollars.

Unless these treatments are covered by insurance, many patients won’t have access to these treatment programs. Insurance usually covers some but not all of these treatments, so patients might relapse as they stop going to therapy.

How to Choose the Right Treatment Program for Co-Occurring Disorders

Treatment programs for co-occurring disorders are based on several practices. And multiple factors can help you pick the right one.

Assessing Individual Needs and Preferences

These programs are tailored for every patient, so choosing the right one involves assessing the patient’s mental condition and addiction severity.

Considering Factors Such as Location, Duration, and Cost

Factors like location, duration, and cost can make one treatment plan more appealing than others. Patients are more likely to commit to a program held at a nearby location, and is more affordable. Moreover, the plan’s duration is evaluated and can be changed based on the patient’s progress.

Researching and Comparing Different Programs

Patients and their families should research different programs, discuss various treatment options, and compare them to pick the right one. There might be several options available or only one, based on the patient’s condition.

Seeking Guidance From Healthcare Professionals and Support Groups

Patients might be confused about the best treatment option available, so healthcare providers can discuss their features and benefits. People can also discuss options with support groups and peers to pick the right treatment plan.


Mental health issues can trigger substance abuse, and their symptoms will get worse with addiction. Co-occurring disorders are treated by discussing traumas and triggers that make patients crave alcohol and drugs.

Integrated programs aim at dealing with co-occurring disorders and addiction by addressing unresolved traumas and preventing relapse. Although dealing with both issues can be challenging, these integrated programs are proving to be successful, especially since they’re tailored to cater to every patient’s needs.

Published on: 2022-11-28
Updated on: 2024-07-08