Addiction and mental health


Addiction and mental health often intertwine. Ongoing addiction can cause emotional distress or mood disorders. The effects of addiction can be detrimental to mental wellness. It can lead to depression, anxiety, or even psychosis. On the flip side, emotional distress can increase the risk of addiction. People self-medicate with addictive substances or behaviors to escape negative emotions or life situations. When both addiction and mental health coexist, it is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Treatment must address the psychological and physical aspects of each disorder to reduce relapse and promote long-term sobriety. Developing strategies to deal with triggering emotions and situations is essential for successful recovery and sustainable behavioral change.

Types of Addiction

Addiction covers a range of issues, like alcohol and drug addiction, gambling, and substance use disorder. It can also include behaviors that become compulsive and hard to control, like shopping, gaming, and internet use disorder. Let us explore the different types of addiction and their consequences for mental health.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, also known as drug and alcohol addiction, is a dangerous habit. It can involve all types of drugs, from alcohol to illegal drugs. It can cause physical and mental health issues, as well as increasing the risk of addiction. People with substance abuse issues often have many symptoms. These include:
  • Compulsively using drugs, even if there are negative consequences;
  • Feeling sick if they do not take drugs;
  • Continuing to use despite health or legal problems;
  • Regular cravings; and
  • Lying about their use.
Substance abuse is recognized by persistent issues with functioning due to drug use. This affects relationships, school and work, family roles and daily life. Treatment often uses cognitive-behavioral therapies to help identify triggers and manage cravings. This aims to prevent relapse into destructive patterns.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions, also known as process addictions, are a type of addiction that affects those with mental health issues. It’s when people compulsively do pleasurable activities, such as gambling and shopping, even though it has bad outcomes. Types of behavioral addictions include:
  • Gambling – risking money in hopes of winning more. Examples include slots and casino games. People with this addiction often continue to gamble despite losses or negative impacts.
  • Shopping – difficulty controlling spending, leading to debt or other financial issues. Compulsive buying without funds or resources.
  • Internet – too much time devoted to digital devices and internet use, such as gaming and social networking, affecting real life relationships.
  • Exercise – obsessed with physical fitness, pushing themselves to exercise past what’s healthy, ignoring medical advice.

Process Addictions

Process addictions, also known as behavioral addictions, are disorders that involve repeating patterns of actions. These actions change the brain chemistry over time. Substance addiction is more discussed and understood, however process addictions can lead to life disruption and health consequences. Types of process addictions include: compulsive gambling disorder, gaming disorder, internet addiction disorder, exercise addiction and shopping addiction. Research suggests many patients have underlying emotional and mental health issues. People with dysregulated emotions and internal distress search for activities that give them relief or control. This leads to feelings of guilt or compulsion. To keep away feelings of emptiness or low-self worth, they must repeat the activity. Like substance use disorders, treatment for process addictions should begin with an assessment of any underlying conditions. This includes depression or anxiety. Treatment should focus on a family systems approach. This includes accountability, self-care and evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Triggers leading to addictive behavior must be identified. Relapse prevention strategies should be implemented to lessen these influences. Additionally, mental health should be improved.

Causes of Addiction

Addictions are a mental health disorder. They can be caused by many things, including emotions, the environment, and physical triggers. Poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, may also be related. In this article, we’ll look at the causes of addiction. We’ll also learn how to spot them and get help to avoid it.


Genetics can influence addiction. Studies of twins show that if one has addiction, the other is likely to too. Genes are linked to a higher chance of addiction, such as a gene that affects dopamine production in the brain. People with mutations in this gene are more sensitive to drugs and alcohol, causing them to be more prone to addiction. Research shows links between
  • alcohol/drug dependence
  • nicotine dependence
  • obesity
  • impulse control disorder
Understanding environmental and genetic risk can help with early prevention programs.


Living environment can affect a person’s risk of addiction. If someone is surrounded by drugs, alcohol and tobacco, they may be more likely to struggle with addiction. Stressful things, like poverty, homelessness, or trauma, can make it worse. Peer pressure is a big cause of addiction. Young and old people feel the need to fit in, which can lead to bad decisions, like using drugs or drinking too much. To avoid this, it helps to hang out with people who don’t do those things. In some jobs, stress can be high. People may use substances to cope. Employers can help by providing counselling and resources for healthy living, such as exercising and meditation.

Mental Health

Addiction is caused by many factors. These include biological, psychological, and environmental influences. These factors can interact differently, meaning one factor could heighten the risk of addiction in certain circumstances. Mental health is a major cause of addiction. Mental health issues can cause people to be unhappy and disturbed. To cope with these negative emotions, people may turn to alcohol or drugs. Studies show that when life becomes difficult or when social situations become stressful, some people will self-medicate to cope. This can lead to addiction. Anxiety and depression can result in substance abuse in both adults and teens. Anxiety can make people fear things they cannot control. Depression can lead to feeling worthless, resulting in addiction instead of finding healthier coping skills. Alcoholism is more common in people with psychotic disorders, as they may self-medicate. This can deepen addictions, or create new ones if there was initial abstinence.


Stress is one of the main causes of addiction. It can make people more likely to take drugs, drink alcohol or use other substances to help them with their negative emotions or cope with hard life events. Stress also makes it hard to control behaviour, and this can lead to addiction. During stressful times, hormones, like cortisol, are released which may make cravings harder to ignore, especially when combined with behaviour changes such as impulsivity. Stress can come from various sources:
  • Losing a job.
  • The death of a family member or friend.
  • Arguments in relationships.
  • Financial/legal issues.
  • Moving house.
  • Changing diet.
It’s important to understand that stress often leads to addiction. To prevent this, people can do things like yoga, mindfulness and counselling. This will help them manage their stress better.


Addiction and mental health issues can be linked. Trauma is an event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. This leads to feeling powerless and intrusive thoughts. It can change how a person views themselves, others, and the environment. To cope, people may use substances. Examples of traumas that cause addiction include:
  • Child abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Death or illness of a loved one
  • A natural disaster
  • Living in a war zone
Trauma affects the brain, making it harder to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behavior. Trauma therapy is used in addiction treatment. It helps people understand why they use substances and teaches healthier ways to cope.

Mental Health and Addiction

Mental health and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Someone might use substances to manage mental illness, or addiction could cause or worsen mental health issues. This is why it’s important to be aware of the link between the two. In this article, we’ll explore the link between mental health and addiction, as well as how to cope with them:

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis) occur when someone has both a mental health disorder and substance abuse or addiction. This can be any combination of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and addiction. The addiction may come before or after the mental health disorder. Addiction masks symptoms of mental illness, making it tough to diagnose and treat. Treatment for co-occurring disorders requires medication and therapy. Medication treats the psychiatric issue and therapy addresses patterns and behaviors associated with each disorder. Recovery depends on participation in treatment, commitment to recovery, and comprehensive care. With determination and support, even two insurmountable challenges can be overcome!


When it comes to treating addiction and mental health, there are various treatments. Understanding these treatments and how they help people with addiction or mental health is a key step in the recovery process. Psychotherapy is a type of treatment that helps people gain understanding of their behavior, learn new strategies to manage their addiction or mental health, process trauma in a healthy way, and develop new skills to improve wellbeing. Different psychotherapies include CBT, DBT, family therapy and trauma focused-therapy. Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Medication alone is not usually recommended for addiction as it can lead to abuse or overdose if taken incorrectly. A physician should be consulted to ensure correct dosing and monitoring. Inpatient programs, like residential treatment centers, help people with serious mental illness access stabilizing services while they stay on-site. These programs often include individual counseling and group therapy sessions. Self-help groups are important for successful recovery from both substance abuse disorder and mental illness. They provide the opportunity to connect with peers who strive for sobriety, fellowship and support in facing common challenges associated with recovery. Twelve Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), are great for helping people address their addictions with guidance from experienced members who have achieved sobriety.

Coping Strategies

For those dealing with mental health and addiction, coping strategies are essential for achieving stability and recovery. Coping strategies are approaches and techniques to tackle problems, feelings, or tricky situations. They vary from simple problem-solving skills to more advanced self-care methods like mindfulness meditation. The scope and type of coping strategies should be customised to an individual’s needs, present crisis or challenge, physical circumstances, recovery goals, and level of motivation for improvement. Types of Coping Strategies:
  1. Practical problem solving: Skills which explore the issue from different perspectives to create useful solutions (e.g. breaking a challenge into smaller parts or delegating tasks).
  2. Cognitive restructuring: Strategies to identify unhealthy thinking patterns and replace them with healthier options (e.g. Positive Thinking Reframes).
  3. Relaxation techniques: Methods to calm the body and reduce stress (e.g. slow abdominal breathing).
  4. Self-regulation techniques: Actions meant to better manage intense emotions (e.g. grounding exercises).
  5. Self-soothing activities: Activities as pleasant distractions from stressful situations by focusing on something positive (e.g. reading a book).
  6. Social support building: Obtaining support from friends, family members, and professional treatment (e.g. joining a support group).
By learning to use coping strategies when faced with the distress of addiction and mental health issues, individuals can become more resilient while managing their challenges. This is better than relying on an external source for relief, which could lead to relapse if it involves substance abuse as a short-term solution for difficult emotions or situations.


To end, addiction and mental health are strongly connected. A lot of people with addiction also struggle with mental health conditions that need treatment. To get lasting recovery, it’s important to treat the addiction and the underlying mental health issue. Dual-diagnosis centers and programs provide a way to treat both. People affected by these two conditions should get assistance. Friends, family, and caregivers should inspire them to find help. Finding a specialized recovery program gives you or someone you love the opportunity to work on a successful long-term recovery from both issues at the same time.

Frequently Asked Questions

There is a strong relationship between addiction and mental health. Often, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can lead to substance abuse as a way to cope. On the other hand, substance abuse can also worsen symptoms of mental health disorders.

If you have a dual diagnosis, you may experience symptoms of both addiction and mental health disorders. Some common signs include: difficulty managing daily responsibilities, changes in mood or behavior, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, and using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with emotional pain.

Yes, addiction and mental health issues can be treated together. This is often referred to as integrated treatment. In integrated treatment, individuals receive care for both their addiction and mental health issues simultaneously to improve overall outcomes.

Some common types of therapy used to treat addiction and mental health include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and trauma-focused therapy. These therapies aim to help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms to manage both addiction and mental health symptoms.

Yes, in some cases, medications can be used to treat addiction and mental health issues. For example, medications may be used to manage symptoms of depression or anxiety, or to reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol.

If you are experiencing symptoms of addiction and mental health disorders, it is important to seek help. Some signs that you may need help include: difficulty managing daily responsibilities, changes in mood or behavior, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, and using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with emotional pain.

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