The connection between mental disorder and substance abuse.

Non graphic Side face with view of the brain

Mental illness and substance abuse share a strong connection. They tend to co-occur together more often than what could be attributed to chance and affect each other significantly (Clark et al., 2005). According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an individual that has a mental illness runs a high chance of abusing substances.

You can find sometimes that a person with a mental illness can attempt to get help but end up not receiving the proper help they need. Again, a person may attempt to self-medicate their symptoms by using substances to relief themselves.

Abusing drugs/alcohol might make the person feel less depressed and/or less anxious temporarily but then you find that after the feeling of being high goes down, those symptoms return back even harder than before.

Mental illness is more common in our society than we think and There is a variety of mental disorders that affect a person’s moods, thought and/or behaviour[i]. For example, depression, eating disorder, addictive behaviours, PTSD, ADHD and Psychotic disorders amongst others.

If not properly diagnosed and treated, it can lead to substance abuse/addiction as a result of a person trying to relief themselves of what they are feeling or going through.

It’s also important to note that in some instances, mental illness comes as a result of substance abuse. Using substances over time can cause mental illness. For example, the use of ecstasy can lead depression problems.  Ecstasy can alter chemicals in the brain that control mood and other behaviours and as a result these alterations can lead to mental problems. [ii]

No child grows up wanting to be a drug addict or have a mental illness but as humans we are not immune to it. The use/abuse of substances by young people at an early age can lead to mental illness at a later stage of their lives.

There is a deep connection between substance abuse and mental illness. This is why dual diagnosis treatment is very important when it comes to drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment.


Clark, R. E., Ricketts, S. K., & McHugo, G. J. (2005). Treatment for severe mental illness and substance use disorders. Psychiatric Services, 50, 641-647.


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