Mental Illness and Addiction: How Are They Linked?

A shocking number of people with mental illnesses will find themselves addicted to a substance at some point in their lives. If you or a loved one has a mental illness, this information can be alarming. However, understanding how mental illness and addiction are connected is the first step in preventing addiction among people with mental illness.

Of course, someone who is struggling with an addiction can also develop mental illness as opposed to the other way around. If you or a loved one is either addicted or suffers from a mental illness, here is a little information you should know about the link between addiction and mental illness.

Self-Medication is a Major Cause

While the Western world is becoming more accepting of mental illness and mental healthcare, we still have a long way to go before everyone is fully knowledgeable about mental health. Many people who have mental illnesses will go undiagnosed and untreated, leading them to resort to coping alone. Unfortunately, self-medication is a very common form of coping with mental illness.

Self-medication occurs when a person abuses a non-prescription substance in order to cope with a mental or physical illness. Alcohol is one of the most common forms of self-medication for mental illness. It dulls the senses, encourages (poor quality) sleep, and slows a racing mind. It is also very socially acceptable to use, making it easy for someone to slip into the habit of self-medicating without realizing it. Before too long, they are addicted to the substance they are abusing.

Prolonged Addiction Can Cause Mental Illnesses to Develop

Of course, addiction will not cause inherited disorders such as autism but more common health problems such as depression and anxiety can easily be the result of an addiction. These types of disorders are caused by imbalanced chemicals in the brain, something that can come from excessive drug abuse.

As the person recovers from their addiction, the illness may fade or even disappear as the brain restores its chemical balances. Rehabilitation and therapy are the only ways to prevent or treat mental illness as a result of addiction.

Mood Disorders, in Particular, Leave a Person More Susceptible to Addiction

While any mental illness can increase a person’s risk for addiction, people with mood disorders have been found to be most likely to abuse substances. One theory for this phenomenon is a generic vulnerability. People with mood disorders tend to have a gene that leaves them more likely to develop a mood disorder.

Similarly, this genetic vulnerability to mood disorders can cause a person to become addicted more easily than the average person. If a person who is more at-risk for addiction tries substances early in life, they also become far more likely to develop an addiction later.

Coping with an untreated mental illness is a recipe for disaster. The likelihood of self-medicating rises as does the odds of an addiction developing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who has an addiction also becomes far more likely to develop mental illness or experience certain symptoms of mental illness. In both cases, the most important thing you can do is get treated. It is never too late to seek help.