Substance Abuse and Mental Health: How Are They Connected?

Lonely person in a crowd.

When a person is struggling with a substance abuse disorder and, at the same time suffering from a mental health condition, this situation commonly takes the name of either “dual diagnosis” or “co-occurring disorder.”

Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can make it extremely harder to deal with drug addiction; therefore, if an individual is going through a dual problem, their condition shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In co-occurring disorders, the symptoms of mental illness the patient might be showing are most likely going to be different from the symptoms an addiction causes. For this reason, being able to maintain a normal and stable life becomes close to impossible.

Moreover, these disorders affect one another, meaning that if a mental problem isn’t treated, the addiction is going to get worse and vice versa.

If you’re wondering how many people suffer from mental illness, then you should know that, in 2018, 19.1% of American adults had at least one mental health problem, and 50% of that number also experienced a substance abuse problem.

From this data, we can see this problem affects a large number of people; therefore, in this article, we’ll take a look at the connection between mental health and substance abuse to try to better understand how co-occurring disorders work.

Addiction and Mental Issues: What Comes First?

These two conditions are strongly connected to each other; however, even though abusing drugs or alcohol can cause psychotic reactions, we cannot exactly say that addiction leads to having mental health problems.

What we can actually see is that consuming alcohol and drugs can potentially increase the risk of developing mental issues, especially if you already have a history of mental problems in your family.

It’s also important to know that, based on the kind of substance an individual abuses, they can develop different kinds of mental health issues. For instance, painkillers increase the risk of depression, while marijuana might increase the chance of weed psychosis symptoms.

Besides increasing a person’s chances to develop a mental condition, drugs can also worsen the symptoms linked to a mental health problem as well as triggering new symptoms.

Although we’ve seen that addiction doesn’t lead to mental problems, oftentimes, alcohol and drugs are mistakenly used as mental health medications by the patients in an attempt to ease the mental problem’s symptoms.

Do You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Diagnosing a co-occurring disorder takes time, and it’s not an easy process, especially because the symptoms and the signs of the condition can vary depending on not only the mental health problem but also on the drug the person is taking.

Rregardless of this, there are a few general signs to look out for that can potentially tell you if you’re experiencing co-occurring disorders:

  • Using drugs to deal with painful memories, feelings, unpleasant situations, or to control your mood.
  • Depression and substance abuse can be linked; do you get depressed when you use drugs?
  • Feeling anxious when you’re sober.
  • Having a history of mental health problems.

Keep in mind that people who are experiencing dual diagnosis are often in denial, and they refuse to admit how much drugs or alcohol are affecting their lives. Denial is also frequent in mental disorders; therefore, if you notice somebody close to you is going through this problem, you should try to convince them to get help as soon as possible.

Moreover, the NIH website can provide additional information on the reasons why substance abuse and mental issues often occur together.

What is Dual Diagnosis and How Are Substance Abuse and Mental Issues Treated?

Dual diagnosis is a condition where a person suffers from both a substance abuse problem and a mental health problem. The best way to treat the condition is by contacting a center for mental health and addiction that can offer an integrated approach to simultaneously treat both disorders.

Mental health treatment can include individual or group counseling, changes in one’s lifestyle, medications, and support from people experiencing a similar condition.

Substance abuse treatment requires going through a detox process, managing the symptoms of withdrawal, attending support group meetings, and maintain the sobriety.

Regardless of which problem an individual manifested first, to achieve a complete and successful recovery, it’s important to treat both conditions at the same time and with the same treatment provider.

The Connection Between Substance Use And Suicidal Behavior In Teens

Using drugs is one of the most common suicide risk factors when it comes to both teenagers and adults. This is because using drugs can mess with your mind whether or not you already have a mental disorder as well.

Being depressed and having suicidal thoughts is not the same thing. Sure drug and alcohol use can cause depression, but in many, it can cause much worse including a suicide attempt.

When it comes to the numbers, we can’t really know how often drug use does contribute to suicide attempts because if they succeed it is not like we can just ask them questions about it.

But many people who use drugs or alcohol, especially teens, use drugs or alcohol to cope with other problems. These problems for teens could include depression, stress, or even just wanting to have fun but not knowing how to let loose.

Having their friends or peers offer them drugs or alcohol while making it seem normal is another way to get them to use drugs. But if they already are dealing with stress and find that drugs and alcohol help calm them down, this can easily lead to addiction.

This is problematic because many drugs have a crash and alcohol is a depressant. Yes, it can make them feel good for a short burst, but it won’t help with any underlying behavioral disorders. Often if a teen is having issues, it can be because they have mental disorders. Using drugs and alcohol often exacerbates the symptoms of these disorders.

It is possible to develop suicidal thoughts while suffering from addiction because the drugs or alcohol wreak havoc on the mind. This is especially true for the developing minds of teenagers. Epidemiological research shows exactly what kind of impact drugs can have on the developing brain.

Even the recovery process itself can put teens at risk if they are not properly cared for because it can become a stressful situation very easily. For many, suicide feels like an easy escape from the hardship of reality, especially if they no longer have drugs to cope.

Using drugs to cope with suicide is another common reason to use drugs that can contribute to their problems.

If you feel sad and overwhelmed everything is hard, and drugs can make you feel good, relax you, and help you forget about your worries. It can be easy to forget what it feels like to be happy without drugs and this can push suicidal thoughts further forward.

If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts don’t be afraid to reach out and get the help that you need. There are always options.


If You Don’t Know How To Say “No” To Drugs And Alcohol

If You Don’t Know How To Say “No” To Drugs And Alcohol

At one point or another in their lives, all teens are offered the chance to try drugs and alcohol. That is why it is important that they know how to say “no” to what is offered comfortably and confidently.

We can’t predict how our kids will respond, and we can’t be there to force an answer out of them that we approve of. All we can do is talk to our kids and educate them. Educating them and warning them on the dangerous drugs and harming effects of alcohol use is very important to help them in the future.

The best thing to do is to give them options on how to say the words “no”. Teach them a few different ways that can help depending on what kind of situation they may be in.

Some of these excuses can include:

–    I have to go, I promised my mom to help with something.

–    I will get sick if I do that.

–    I can’t, I have to meet somebody in a few minutes.

–    Are you trying to get me in trouble?

–    That’s so unhealthy.

–    Why would you want to try that?

–    You can die from that.

–    Are you suicidal? That stuff can kill you.

–    That’s insane!

–    It’s really just not my thing.

–    I would get in so much trouble.

–    I’m busy.

–    My sports team/job drug tests and I’d get kicked off the team/fired.

–    Absolutely not.

–    I have better things to do.

Being properly educated on the dangers of drug and alcohol use means they can use that to their advantage. They know exactly what could happen and they tell their friends that. This can be a good way for them to feel confident about their answers.

They should hopefully feel comfortable being honest as well. If they just don’t want to try drugs, they should be able to say so without being embarrassed or ashamed. They can make up excuses if they need if they don’t feel comfortable. There are many ways to say “no” to drugs and alcohol.

Kids who take drugs or alcohol may be popular, there may be a new fashion drug that they are pushing on others. That can make it harder for your teen to say no and they may feel pressured into taking it.

Arming your kids with knowledge and the confidence in their own decision-making skills can truly make all the difference. Education is the best step forward. Being honest with your kids about why drugs are harmful but also why people like them can help significantly.

A teen may be interested in the high that comes with a drug or the buzz from alcohol. But if they know the chemical reactions that cause and addiction they may no longer be interested. Much useful info about drugs and abuses targeted for teens you can also find here.

How Addiction Starts

Is there a single trigger that starts teen’s drug addiction? No, there are many causes that prompt addiction. There are so many drugs in the world appeared for the last century, and some of them are very challenging and dangerous for teenagers. There is an age-old belief that nature and nurture are potential triggers for addiction. Here are some of the critical factors that lead a young person towards addiction.


Children may suffer emotional or sexual abuse in some families. Similarly, some parents are avoidant or authoritative. Divorce is another factor that can impact the mental health of children. Together, these causes can lead to addiction.

Electronic media

General media such as television shows, movies, and video games also impact individual behaviors. When we consider addiction, video games have gone beyond being a hobby or simple distraction. Dopamine is a brain chemical – a neurotransmitter. Every time a player reaches a higher level, the brain releases more dopamine when such action reaches very high levels, dopamine passes to other parts of the brain. With every burst of pleasure, the brain asks for more. The risk associated with the games can result from an uncontrolled craving for dopamine. A direct consequence of this craving is an addiction to cocaine because cocaine quenches the thirst for dopamine instantly.

Friend groups

The social interaction of a person is another factor that can lead him/her into addiction. When the friend groups have many members with drug problems, the path to addiction is quick and easy. Initially, these people want to feel connected and develop a sense of belonging. In other words, patterns in behavior and habits easily spread to everyone in the group.

Religion and Culture

Religion and Culture also carry several triggers for addiction. These can include the geographical area where the person is growing up, religious beliefs in the culture and early teachings and experiences from religious or cultural activities. For example, some cultures accept male drinking while female drinking is not acceptable. It can lead to more promiscuity among young guys and concerning drugs. Sometimes this problematic behavior stems as a rebellious response to such norms.

Environmental impact

For some teenagers, the pub they visit a drink with friends, a social hangout, or even the solitude of their kitchen can trigger their cravings. Such triggers can also balloon when people or places are also associated with drug abuse. Over some time, such environmental impact paves the way to addiction.

The teen syndrome

For a wide range of reasons, teens tend to try drugs the first time. It gets easier for the parents to speak to their teens when they have a good understanding of these reasons. A simple ‘no’ to teens who have friends using drugs or reckoned as ‘cool kids’ can hardly work. Compton is at a particular disadvantage because recent times have seen a marked increase in teens taking to drugs. The free/easy life and fashion trends are also seen as significant contributors to this rising trend.

Summing up

The influencers we have identified for how addiction starts are merely risk factors. This is not a whole list of how addiction starts. The final condition can be caused due to a wide range of factors coming together. But, knowing these and other triggers can help you to minimize their effect on your children.


NA Teens Community in Compton


Behavioral Treatment Programs in Outpatient Rehab

  • Motivational Therapy Enhancement (MTE):

These short sessions are motivating teens to participate in drug addiction treatment. Motivational Enhanced Therapy is linked with other therapies. This is to inspire teens to recover. This therapy has one to three sessions.

  • Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (ACRA):

This community improves victim’s problem-solving skills, coping with their life and communication skills are improved. This community helps replaces negative environmental points with the positive ones. It focuses on upgrading the teen’s support system.

  • Contingency Management:

For taking part in addiction, recovery to encourage positive, healthy behavior real rewards like cash vouchers are given. This method is linked with other therapy styles.

Family-Based Therapies

  • Family Behavioral Therapy (BFT):

This therapy session is for improving the relationship between teens and parents. The main aim is to create a drug-free home environment. Both receive real prizes after meeting their treatment’s goal.

  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT):

This therapy needs twelve to sixteen sessions. This is done during post-rehab care.

  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT):

This therapy is for troubled or violent teens. This therapy needs a connection with a school. This therapy might also take help from the juvenile justice system if required. This is done so that both the parties can work together to help teen recover from addiction.

Recovery Support Services:

  • Assertive Continuing Care (ACC):

This is a doctor-assisted recovery program. Victim’s home is a venue for this care. Assertive Continuing Care helps them in communication skills.

  • Peer Recovery Support Services:

This service done in community centers for recovering teens. This support system introduces newly addicted teen with the ex-addicted person so that they can get inspiration from them.

  • Recovery High School:

Under the control situation, recovering teen gets its education from this school.


Am I ADDICT? (Self Test)

Whenever we consumed alcohol or drugs, we convinced ourselves by saying, “I can have control over it”. This might be true at the starting. Is it true now? No. We used to live a very simple life until when we met addictions.  You may think that you do not have an addiction but have an issue with drugs. Well, we all have a biased meaning about what an addict is. Once you take action, which is positive, then there is no need of hiding about being an addict.

We have put down some questions, which were written by recovered addicts in NA. This may help you in questioning your own addiction. Answer these questions with Yes or No. If most of the questions have an answer with Yes, then you seriously need to cure your addiction.  This may not be easy for you, but only you can answer these questions. Please be loyal to yourself while answering:

  1. Are you consuming drug alone?
  2. Is drug necessary for you after you wake up or go to bed?
  3. Did you ever lie to your doctor just to get drugs?
  4. Did steal anything to buy drugs?
  5. Have you ever replaced one drug for another because you thought that common drug was a problem?
  6. Do you ignore people who always tell you to avoid taking drugs?
  7. Did you get detained because of drugs?
  8. When it comes to financial responsibilities, do you prefer drug over it?
  9. Did you try to minimize your usage so that it can be in your control?
  10. Do you have an obsession with a particular object or activity?
  11. Have you ever admitted to a drug rehabilitation center?
  12. Will you be terrified after drugs run out?
  13. Do you have a feeling about your life is impossible for you without drugs?
  14. Do you feel that your home life is bad due to drug?
  15. Do you think that you cannot have good times without using drugs?
  16. Do you feel guilty about your usage?
  17. Do you often dream about drugs?
  18. Have your physical relationships affected due to drugs?
  19. Did you take the drugs you never preferred?
  20. Have used drugs due to pain or stress?
  21. Have you taken an extra dose of the drug?
  22. Has not bad effects of drugs concerned you about its usage?