How Addiction Affects Mental Health

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Mental health disorders and addictions often appear together in what’s known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, you may want to know how addiction affects mental health, and how this can be diagnosed and treated.

Addiction (substance use disorder) can significantly impact mental health. Many people with addiction also struggle with underlying mental health issues like anxiety or depression. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) reports that 17 million U.S. adults had co-occurring disorders in 2020.

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Alcohol and drug addiction side effects can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions, and it can also create new mental health issues. This guide explores the closely interrelated nature of mental health and addictions, examines how addiction affects mental health, and highlights the most effective treatment for addiction and mental health conditions that co-occur.

How Does Addiction Affect Mental Health?

The dangers of addiction include an array of mental health symptoms. One of the primary complications of substance abuse is the way that drug or alcohol addiction disrupts the brain’s natural chemistry. Substance abuse can cause changes in neurotransmitters – chemical messengers – in the brain responsible for regulating mood. This may trigger symptoms of depression, irritability, anxiety, or mood swings.

Additionally, addiction can lead to social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family, which can inflame feelings of loneliness and depression.

The cycle of addiction can be self-perpetuating, as many people turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their mental health symptoms, leading to more severe substance abuse and worsening mental health.

Can Addiction Lead to Mental Health Disorders?

Research suggests that alcohol and some drugs may cause mental health issues or trigger pre-existing conditions.

Studies show that depression and schizophrenia are strongly affected by substance use. Alcohol and certain drugs may cause or activate psychological conditions, although researchers are unsure why this happens. Some experts hypothesize that sustained drug or alcohol use can impact gene expression, triggering psychological conditions in those who are predisposed to those conditions – like someone who smokes marijuana experiencing psychosis, for instance.

Substance abuse health effects may also involve changes in the brain, both short-term and long-term, affecting hormones and neurotransmitters. If hormones become unbalanced, this can encourage the development of psychological disorders. Young adults with developing brains are particularly susceptible, with early-onset substance abuse effects causing lasting damage.

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How Can Addiction Affect Your Health?

Addiction can have a dramatic impact on your health, both physical and mental. Here are some of the main dangers of addiction in terms of your health.

These are the most common physical health issues associated with addiction:

  • Cardiovascular disease: Substance use can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.
  • Liver disease: The liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the body, and prolonged substance use can lead to liver damage or failure. Alcohol abuse is associated with life-threatening liver damage.
  • Respiratory problems: The use of certain drugs like opioids can lead to respiratory depression and other breathing problems.
  • Infectious diseases: Substance abuse can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne illnesses.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Substance abuse can disrupt the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, potentially triggering malnutrition and other health complications.

These are the most common mental health issues associated with addiction:

  • Depression and anxiety: Substance use can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety that often persist even after you stop using drugs or alcohol.
  • Mood swings: Substance use often causes aggravating mood swings, irritability, agitation, and other emotional disturbances.
  • Psychosis: Substance abuse can trigger symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions.
  • Social and financial effects: Addiction can also have a significant impact on social and financial well-being, including relationship difficulties, legal problems, and financial stress, from debt to job loss.

Diseases Caused by Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can lead to a range of health complications and diseases, including:

  • Infectious diseases: Substance abuse can increase the risk of contracting infectious, blood-borne diseases. This is often due to sharing needles or engaging in other risky behaviors while under the influence of drugs.
  • Respiratory diseases: Opioid abuse may lead to the development of breathing problems and respiratory depression, which can increase the risk of respiratory infections and diseases like pneumonia.
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Substance use can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular complications. Substance abuse strains the cardiovascular system and negatively impacts blood pressure and heart function.
  • Liver diseases: Prolonged substance abuse can lead to liver damage or failure, as well as liver diseases like hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases: Abusing addictive substances long-term can cause gastrointestinal problems including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive complications. Involving the stomach and intestines.
  • Mental health disorders: Addiction can also lead to the development of mental health disorders. Substance abuse also alters brain chemistry and function, leading to changes in mood, behavior, and cognition.

Is Addiction a Mental Health Issue?

Addiction is often considered a mental health issue as it can lead to changes in brain chemistry and cause a range of mental health symptoms. Beyond this, addiction can be linked to underlying mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Substance abuse should be viewed as a mental health issue because it can impact your ability to function in daily life and can also lead to significant distress and impairment. Seeking treatment for addiction should be viewed as seeking treatment for a mental health condition, and you should look for the appropriate support and resources to address your addiction and any underlying mental health issues.

Drug Addiction and Mental Health Comorbidities

Comorbidity refers to the co-occurrence of two or more disorders. In the case of addiction and mental health, comorbidity is common. Those with a mental health condition are twice as likely to have an addiction as those without a mental health condition. People with substance use disorders are also at increased risk of mental health issues.

The treatment of comorbid addiction and mental health disorders is often complex and requires an integrated approach that addresses both the addiction and the underlying mental health issues simultaneously to achieve the most positive treatment outcomes at addiction and mental health facilities.

Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

Whether you need mental health drug treatment or an alcohol abuse clinic, the best alcohol drug addiction and mental health services promote health and wellness through lifestyle changes. These will be gradually weaved in as you start any treatment program for the co-occurring disorder.

An effective dual-diagnosis treatment program will begin with a medically supervised detox. It can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening to abruptly stop using drugs or alcohol without medical supervision. Detox is the first stage of recovery at addiction health services, breaking the issue of physical dependence.

Treatment plans for dual diagnosis will vary from person to person. Through a range of therapeutic modalities and pharmacological interventions, you can address the symptoms of your mental health condition while also dealing with the challenging early stages of sobriety.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is a type of addiction treatment that combines behavioral therapy with medications to help those with addictions and mental health conditions. MAT can also be an effective treatment option for co-occurring disorders. MAT medications work by reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with detox and early abstinence, while also addressing underlying mental health conditions. For example, those with opioid addiction and depression may benefit from MAT medications like buprenorphine. Buprenorphine may help reduce opioid cravings and improve depressive symptoms. 

Additionally, some MAT medications can also be used to treat co-occurring mental health disorders directly. For example, naltrexone – a medication commonly used for alcohol and opioid addiction – may improve symptoms of PTSD and reduce alcohol cravings in individuals with co-occurring PTSD and alcohol use disorder.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders may also involve the following therapies:

  • Individual therapy: Your treatment goals will be based on the initial plan formulated so working individually with a therapist allows you to alter these goals as necessary and to keep your recovery calibrated tightly to your needs. During individual therapy, you can also engage with psychotherapy (talk therapy) like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy. Learn to identify triggers for problematic behaviors and create healthier coping mechanisms by working closely with a credentialed therapist.
  • Group therapy: From 12-step addiction groups to mental health support groups to group therapy sessions at rehab, these sessions allow you to benefit from the support of peers with a lived experience of addiction.
  • Family therapy: Most treatment programs for co-occurring disorders give you the chance to involve your family in the recovery process. Start rebuilding relationships damaged by addiction or mental health issues and improve your communication and conflict management skills with the help of a trained intermediary.
  • Holistic therapies: Practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can supplement evidence-based treatments for dual diagnosis to promote whole-body healing.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is an ongoing journey so a personalized aftercare plan will help minimize the likelihood of relapse derailing your recovery due to the complications of substance abuse.

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Begin Your Recovery Journey for Mental Health and Addiction at California Detox

When you are ready to reclaim your life from addiction and mental health issues, consider engaging with a dual diagnosis treatment program at California Detox in Laguna Beach to benefit from combined addiction and psychiatric care.

Take advantage of the safest and most comfortable pathway to ongoing inpatient or outpatient treatment at our licensed medical detox center. Access medications to streamline the withdrawal process and alleviate cravings before transitioning into one of these treatment programs for co-occurring disorders:

  • Inpatient programs (residential rehab)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)

All treatment programs combine science-based and holistic therapies and include a robust aftercare component. For immediate assistance, call admissions at 949.694.8305.


Addiction and mental health are often interconnected, with individuals experiencing mental health disorders being at heightened risk of developing addiction, and those struggling with addiction being more likely to have underlying mental health issues.
Substance abuse can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing by contributing to the development or exacerbation of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Substance abuse may also lead to cognitive impairment and other physical health problems.


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