Understanding Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse

abuseMental illness and addiction are often reliant on one another. People with mental illnesses are at a greater risk for addiction as a result of self-medication and lack of proper treatment. Yet each disorder is slightly different in its relationship with self-medication.

If someone you love has a mental illness, they are at risk for self-medication and addiction. Recognizing the signs and getting them help is the best way to prevent worsened symptoms. So, here are a few of the more common mental disorders and how they connect to substance abuse.

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a very common disorder, experienced by about 18% of adults in the U.S. People with anxiety tend to self-medicate because either they do not know they have a disorder or they feel that they can handle the symptoms on their own.

Anxious people typically abuse alcohol because it reduces that feeling of tension and limits the mind’s ability to worry and obsess over negative thoughts. People with social anxiety will abuse alcohol to get through social situations and often find that they cannot attend such gatherings without alcohol.

Clinical Depression

There are many forms of depression, experienced by many people in their lifetime. Clinical depression refers to a tangible imbalance of chemicals in the brain which requires medication to correct. In lieu of treatment, many depressed people with abuse substances to dull their negative emotions and feel better. Alcohol is once again a very commonly abused substance for those with this disorder. In severe cases, alcohol may also be used to ease an act of suicide.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is known for its episodes of overt happiness and productivity (mania) and its extremely negative episodes (depressive). Substances are thought to temporarily reduce the extreme levels of each episode, making the mood swings milder. However, substance abuse will have the opposite effect if used regularly which in turn prompts the person to abuse the substance even more.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is frequently found in soldiers but is also common in trauma survivors. Depression is a very common symptom of PTSD, leading the sufferer to abuse substances as a way to control the depression as well as suppress traumatic memories. Alcohol is most commonly abused in people with PTSD for its ease of access and quick effects. With the heightened risk of suicide in people with PTSD, alcohol abuse can be very dangerous.


Unlike the other disorders, people with schizophrenia are actually more likely to abuse tobacco and marijuana. Some studies say that these substances really do help curb the psychotic symptoms while others say they contribute to them. Less is known about schizophrenia and addiction, but there is a known increased risk of substance abuse in people with the disorder.

Addiction in those with mental illness does not only mean rehab, but it also means worsened symptoms of the illness. For some, these behaviors can lead to suicide while others will only see their disorders become more severe. Regardless, it is important to do what you can to either prevent or treat addiction in people with mental illnesses, and understanding the connection is the first step.


Jennifer McGregor http://publichealthlibrary.org/  Grandville, MI

Jennifer McGregor loves providing reliable health and medical resources. She knows how difficult it can be to sift through health info on the web, and wants to change that. Jennifer created Public Health Library to help people find reputable information on health topics.