Mental Illness and Addiction: Find Treatment for Both

Mental illness and addiction are two mental health conditions that often go hand in hand. Research shows that people diagnosed with mental illnesses are nearly twice as likely to suffer from substance use disorders than their counterparts, and vice versa. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are all examples of mental health disorders that can increase one’s risk for addiction, while at the same time, drug and alcohol use disorders can increase one’s risk for mental illness, and worsen existing psychological symptoms.

Fortunately, a number of drug and alcohol detox centers across the U.S. acknowledge the link between mental illness and addiction, and offer therapies that treat both conditions simultaneously. Combining detox with therapies such as behavioral counseling, support groups, and addiction education can help individuals manage and overcome both addiction and mental illness — also known as co-occurring disorders. The key to conquering these disorders is being able to identify the root cause of symptoms — allowing you or your loved one to receive proper treatment and successfully overcome both addiction and mental illness.

Here’s an in-depth look at the link between mental illness and addiction, and how these conditions are treated at drug and alcohol detox centers.

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The Connection Between Mental Illness and Addiction

Addiction is defined as a mental illness due to the way this health condition changes one’s brain chemistry and behavior. Addiction is similar to other mental illnesses in that this condition also triggers impulsive behaviors its victims are unable to control. Additionally, repeated use of drugs and alcohol can alter one’s brain chemistry, and lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that trigger mood and anxiety disorders.

Although addiction affects roughly half of those with mental health disorders and vice versa, only a small percentage of these individuals end up receiving treatment for their conditions. Findings from a recent study showed that out of the nearly 20 million adults who need addiction treatment in the U.S., only 10.8 percent receive treatment. Out of the 44.7 million adults with mental illnesses, only 43.1 percent receive treatment. These statistics reveal there are 17.7 million U.S. adults that continue to suffer from addiction without receiving treatment, and 25.5 million adults with mental illnesses who are fighting symptoms on their own without professional help — many of whom are using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Why does addiction commonly co-occur with mental health conditions? Research shows that the effects of some drugs can cause users to experience one or more symptoms of other mental illnesses. For instance, anxiety is a common effect of cocaine use and withdrawal, while anxiety and paranoia are common effects of LSD.

At the same time, mental illnesses can often lead to alcohol and drug use, as some may use these substances to self-medicate for symptoms like depression and anxiety. For example, those who suffer from social anxiety disorder may use alcohol or marijuana to help them relax and feel more outgoing and talkative in social situations. Factors including genetics, brain damage, and early exposure to stress and trauma are considered overlapping factors that also lend to an increased risk for co-occurring disorders.

Common Mental Health Disorders Contributing to Addiction

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health disorders linked to addiction. Those who suffer drug and alcohol use disorders commonly experience depression and anxiety when using high amounts, or when going through withdrawal. Plus, over time, drugs and alcohol can cause lasting changes to the brain that impact one’s mood, behaviors, and psychological health — increasing the risk for depression and anxiety.

Mental illnesses can often be difficult to manage without psychotherapy, medications, and other effective treatments, which is why nearly half of those with these disorders use drugs and alcohol to forget about or mask their feelings and symptoms. Using drugs to self-medicate for depression and anxiety can lead to more serious life problems that can worsen their livelihood and overall health. For example, those who use injectable drugs like cocaine and heroin are at heightened risk for life-threatening illnesses like AIDS and hepatitis C that can lead to intensified feelings of grief, anxiety, and depression.

Here’s a list of mental health disorders that commonly contribute to addiction.

  • Depression. This mental illness affects 20 million Americans, and is characterized by symptoms of feelings of sadness and worthlessness, sleep problems, loss of energy, loss of pleasure in favorite activities, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. As the most common anxiety disorder in the U.S., GAD is characterized by symptoms of constant worry, restlessness, and problems with concentration.
  • Bipolar disorder. Also known as bipolar depression or manic depression, this mental health disorder causes extreme, unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that interfere with one’s daily activities.
  • Panic disorder. This common anxiety disorder is characterized by recurring and unexpected panic attacks — episodes of intense fear accompanied by sweating, shaking, and feelings of impending doom.
  • Social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, this anxiety disorder is marked by an unreasonable fear of interacting with others and being among crowds. Symptoms commonly include fear about being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated in front of others.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD affects roughly 3.6 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 54 every year, and is characterized by one’s inability to fully recover from terrifying, traumatic events they may have witnessed or experienced first-hand.
  • Schizophrenia. This mental illness affects roughly 3.2 million Americans, and is mainly characterized by thoughts and experiences that seem out of touch with reality, along with disorganized speech and behavior.
  • Personality disorders. These disorders are a group of mental illnesses in which a person exhibits thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that deviate from cultural and societal expectations, and that can cause distress and problems with daily functioning. Examples of common personality disorders are borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
  • Phobias. Phobias are known as irrational fears of certain animals, objects, or situations that are debilitating and that interfere with one’s livelihood and daily activities. Examples of common phobias are fear of heights, fear of being in enclosed spaces, fear of needles, and fear of living beings like snakes, spiders, and dogs.

Seeking treatment for mental illness can greatly lower your risk for addiction, and for worsened symptoms that can occur on behalf of substance use disorders.

Why Inpatient Detox Programs Treat Co-Occurring Disorders

mental illness and addiction

Addressing underlying mental health issues is imperative for a lasting recovery.

Treatments for co-occurring disorders are included in many drug and alcohol detox programs to ensure patients can successfully overcome addiction as a whole both physically and psychologically. A person who only goes through detox may be able to overcome physical dependency on drugs and alcohol, but needs additional therapies to identify and overcome the root causes of why they began abusing substances in the first place. These psychological therapies also play a major role in helping patients identify, understand, and seek treatment for any underlying mental health disorders.

Co-occurring disorders are often best treated in an inpatient detox setting. Inpatient detox centers monitor and oversee a patient’s alcohol and drug withdrawal from start to finish so they face a minimized risk for health complications that can arise when quitting cold turkey. Inpatient detox programs can provide patients with the intensive care and support needed to overcome chemical dependency without relapsing or being exposed to negative influences.

Inpatient detox programs can last anywhere between several days and several months, depending on the severity of the drug use disorder and chosen detox method. For example, an inpatient medical detox for alcohol use disorder often lasts between seven and 10 days, while inpatient detox for heroin use disorder using medication-assisted treatment may last for up to several months.

Drug and alcohol detox is often the first stage of addiction treatment, and is necessary to help patients mentally refresh and clear their heads. After completing drug and alcohol detox, patients can move on to therapies that help them heal from psychological addiction and mental illness. Inpatient detox centers understand that in order to fully overcome addiction and mental illness, patients need more than just drug and alcohol detox.

How a Detox Center Treats Mental Illness and Addiction

After going through detox, patients are evaluated by a team of medical professionals that help them determine the next best step of treatment. Physicians, psychotherapists, and addiction counselors will often work together to develop customized treatment plans for each individual patient. Those diagnosed with mental health disorders often go on to receive the therapies needed to manage and overcome their illness at the same time as overcoming psychological addiction.

Mental illness and addiction are commonly treated using cognitive-behavioral therapy, medications, education, and individual, group, and family counseling. These therapies help patients and their doctors identify the reasons they initially started abusing substances — allowing both parties to focus on treating the root cause. For instance, those who started drinking alcohol to treat symptoms of PTSD can undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy to face their fears and work toward fully overcoming trauma without using alcohol to mask their feelings.

Here are common therapies used by detox centers to treat mental illness and addiction.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

CBT is effective at helping people recognize triggers of drug and alcohol abuse, along with symptoms of mental health disorders. After properly identifying triggers, therapists work with patients to modify their behaviors and responses to these triggers.


Education surrounding mental illness and addiction helps patients understand the link between these two mental health disorders and how they affect behavior — helping patients reduce the risk for relapse later on.


Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics are often prescribed to help patients manage symptoms of mental illness while undergoing addiction treatment. In a drug detox setting, medications are only used to treat mental illnesses as long as they carry a low risk for addiction and do not interfere with addiction recovery.


Group therapy for those with co-occurring disorders can provide patients with a strong support network while in recovery, while family therapy helps all family members understand more about the link between addiction and mental illness. Family therapy and education allows families to create more loving, supportive environments for loved ones who are healing and recovering from addiction at home.

Aftercare Programs and Your Mental Health

Aftercare programs are essential to helping patients stay addiction-free and manage their mental illnesses in the weeks, months, and years following inpatient detox. After finishing drug detox programs, patients resume their daily lives as sober individuals. Many times, these individuals need ongoing care and support to help them navigate life and cope with stress in healthy ways without turning to drugs and alcohol.

Aftercare programs provide you or your loved one with counselors, addiction education, and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. These ongoing therapies assist substantially with recovery by helping patients establish new, healthy daily routines and lifestyle habits. Some aftercare programs even offer sober and transitional housing for those who require safe, structured living environments after overcoming addiction and mental illness.

When choosing among drug detox programs that treat co-occurring disorders, choose a program that offers aftercare, and that has experience with treating your specific mental illness and addiction type. For instance, if you or your loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder, look for alcohol detox programs that specifically treat bipolar disorder, and not just alcohol detox depression. Also, look for detox programs that teach you healthy coping skills and strategies aimed at helping you stay sober while minimizing symptoms of your mental illness.

If you or someone you love is struggling with co-occurring disorders, understand there are nearby drug detox programs that can help. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring drug abuse counselor about your treatment options. We’ll help you find nearby drug detox centers that can treat both your addiction and co-occurring mental illness.

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