Josh Chandler | January 24, 2023

Mental Health and Addiction: How They’re Connected

Factors That Contribute to Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, you might also have a mental health disorder. Maybe you’ve already been diagnosed, though for some people the diagnosis occurs while they’re in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Issues with mental health and addiction must be addressed in treatment because it’s very hard (if not impossible) to recover from substance abuse without also receiving help for the co-occurring disorder.

Neither mental health problems nor addiction is anything to be ashamed of, although sometimes modern culture makes it seem that way. Both issues can be treated with help, and plenty of Americans lead happy and fulfilling lives in recovery while dealing with a mental health diagnosis simultaneously.

Millions of Americans have co-occurring disorders. You can’t always tell which caused the other because even though the symptoms of one appear before the other, that doesn’t mean the first one to pop up resulted in the second. 

Mental illnesses can contribute to substance abuse disorders, but addiction can also contribute to mental illness. Some mental health disorders are well-known for aggravating substance use. Similarly, the changes in the brain produced by certain drugs can worsen specific mental illnesses.

In terms of treatment, it doesn’t really matter which one came first or whether one caused the other. Normally, you need to detox from your drug of choice first, and then you can start to treat both disorders. Another reason that dual diagnosis is common at many rehabs is that there are shared factors that can make you both more susceptible to substance abuse and mental illness.


Some people have genetic vulnerabilities that make them more likely to suffer from mental health and addiction problems. Genes may instruct the body to make a protein that affects how long the drug stays in the body and whether the person finds the drug pleasurable. Or they change how you react to stress or make you more likely to have risk-seeking behavior.

Environmental factors that affect genes

Some genes can be turned off or on depending on what’s going on (epigenetics). Things like stress, trauma, and drugs can influence these genes, which can change your behavior.

Regions of the brain

Several brain areas and structures are involved in mental illnesses and substance abuse. For example, specific mental illnesses and addiction affect the reward pathways and structures involved in decision-making and impulse control.


Anyone who has been physically or emotionally traumatized is at a higher risk for mental health and addiction disorders. Whether it occurred in childhood or adulthood doesn’t matter because the risk is higher no matter when you experienced it.


This is a known contributor to mental illnesses and relapsing during recovery from a substance use disorder. It’s particularly applicable to people who had stressful early childhoods and those who experience chronic stress.

Typical co-occurring disorders with substance abuse include depression, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). If you have one of the disorders that are considered severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you’re at an even higher risk of a substance use disorder.

Click here to call Muse Addiction Center today. Our staff is available 24/7 to provide answers and begin the admissions process. Call (800) 426-1818.

 Therapy Options to Address Mental Health and Addiction

Once you’ve cleared your system of drugs and alcohol, either by going it alone or attending a detox where you can be supervised, you can begin treating both your mental health issues and substance abuse. It’s important to address them simultaneously once you’re no longer on the drugs since the two tend to feed off each other.

Managing stress is a key life skill to help you with both disorders. At a rehab that specializes in dual diagnosis, you’ll learn these skills and be able to practice them in a trigger-free environment. Managing stress will help prevent relapse and help you better manage mental illness.

Behavioral therapies are also effective in treating both issues. These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

You’ll learn to challenge irrational thoughts (like “I need to use right now”) and change your behavior based on rational thinking. This is a form of “talk therapy.”

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This methodology also helps you change your behavior for the positive and includes mindfulness and acceptance work. You’ll learn skills to avoid self-harm and control intense feelings.

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)

This uses community health to reach out and customize individual approaches.

Therapeutic Community (TC)

These are long-term residential facilities where you’ll learn new skills and change your values and behaviors positively.

Contingency Management (CM)

This methodology explicitly rewards good behavior, often with vouchers or other kinds of tangible rewards.

Depending on your drug use history and mental health issues, you may also need medication. Some medications treat more than one disorder. Peer support can also be an effective way to get help. 12-step or similar recovery groups help many Americans recover from addiction, and they can also be helpful with mental health disorders.

Mental Health and Addiction

Mental Health Benefits of Treating Addiction

It’s hard to be clean and sober if you have an untreated mental illness, but it’s also hard to manage your mental health when you’re still using drugs and alcohol. There are significant benefits to treating addiction when you have a dual diagnosis.

Address the underlying causes of your behavior

Mental illness contributes to drug and alcohol abuse, but normally there’s an underlying cause to your addiction. In other words, substance use is a symptom, not the disease itself. When you get treated for the addiction, you can uncover the issues that led to the addiction, which may also affect your mental health disorder.

Learn coping strategies

Life isn’t a box of chocolates, but it comes to you fast. People with mental health and addiction problems often use to self-medicate, which is technically a coping mechanism but not one that works well. 

When you go to treatment, you’ll learn positive ways to deal with stress and loss and all the other things that might have made you use them in the past. They may also help with the symptoms of the mental illness so you’re not tempted to self-medicate or use another destructive coping mechanism.

Get support

You’re not alone, and sometimes knowing that there are people out there just like you who suffer from the same disorders you do makes you feel less lonely. Supportive communities can also help you decide what to do when you’re stuck with either of your co-occurring disorders, making you less likely to relapse.

Develop a new (positive) outlook on life

When you feel alone and sick, it’s hard to be optimistic. Treating your addiction and mental health issues gives you a whole new perspective on your life. As you continue sobriety, you realize that you can handle what life throws at you. 

Heal relationships

By the time you need treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, you’ve likely had some problems with the loved ones in your life. Getting clean and sober and working to heal these relationships provides you the support you need to stay sober and manage your illness.

Lead a fulfilling life

Just because you have a dual diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t lead a great life. Once you’ve learned strong coping skills and how to apply them, addiction and mental illness don’t have to hold you back.

Muse Treatment Is Ready to Address Mental Health and Addiction

At Muse Addiction Treatment Center, we want you to be successful in rehab and on the rest of your path through life. We focus on making your rehab stay as stress-free as possible. We customize your treatment program to address both your mental illness and addiction to give you the best results possible. 

Our facility is affordable, and we take most insurance plans. Our staff is compassionate and understanding and dedicated to your recovery. Don’t wait any longer to start living the life you dream of – and deserve. Call us at (800) 426-1818 to learn more today.

Addiction,Mental Health,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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