April 14, 2023

Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

A woman is sitting on a rocky beach looking at the water to represent the question, "Is addiction a disease?".

Many people living with addiction have questions about whether addiction is a mental illness or simply the mental effects of drug addiction. This guide addresses issues including:

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  • Is substance abuse a mental health disorder?
  • How do drugs affect your mental health?
  • Is addiction a mental disorder?

You will also discover how mental illness and addiction intersect in the form of dual diagnosis – the simultaneous presentation of an addiction and a mental health condition.

Is addiction a mental illness, then?

Is Addiction a Mental Health Issue?

Is substance abuse disorder a psychiatric disorder?

There is a growing awareness of the mental effects of drug addiction and the way in which addiction is linked to brain function and well-being.

NIDA defines addiction (substance use disorder) as a chronic, relapsing disorder. All substance use disorders are characterized by compulsive drug use regardless of the consequences.

American Psychological Association also reports that addiction is a chronic brain condition, with repeated exposure to drugs or alcohol triggering brain changes. APA states that addiction is developed and maintained due to social, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Addictions are clinically described as SUD (substance use disorder) and diagnosed according to the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (fifth revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). DSM-5-TR is a reference for the identification and diagnosis of mental health conditions.

Is substance abuse a mental health disorder, then? According to these definitions, addiction is a chronic mental health condition.

Drugs and Mental Illness

The relationship between drugs and alcohol mental health is complex. On one hand, drugs can be used to treat various mental illnesses – antidepressants for depression and antipsychotics for schizophrenia, for instance. That said, the mental effects of drugs can also cause or inflame mental health problems.

Drug use can lead to the development of mental illnesses through various mechanisms. For example, stimulants like cocaine and meth can cause psychosis, while long-term use of marijuana has been associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. Additionally, the use of drugs can exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses like major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder.

How can drugs affect your mental health?

Individuals with mental illnesses are more likely to use drugs as a form of self-medication. For example, those with anxiety or depression may use alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms. Regrettably, this can prompt a vicious cycle of drug use and worsening mental health, as drug use can inflame symptoms and lead to addiction.

Drugs may also interact with psychiatric medications, leading to dangerous side effects or reduced effectiveness of treatment. This means that those with mental illnesses should disclose their drug use to their healthcare providers in order to receive safe and effective treatment.

While drugs can be an effective treatment for certain mental illnesses, their use can also lead to the development or worsening of mental health problems. The various mental effects of drug addiction mean that those with mental health disorders should be mindful of the potential risks associated with drug use and should seek help if they are struggling with addiction.

Can Drugs Cause Mental Illness?

Drugs and alcohol effects on mental health may include mental illness in some cases.

Certain drugs – cocaine and meth – can cause acute psychosis, a severe mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking. Long-term use of drugs such as marijuana has also been linked to an increased risk of developing mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia.

The abuse of drugs may also worsen pre-existing mental illnesses. For example, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience manic episodes when using certain drugs like cocaine or antidepressants. Similarly, individuals with depression or anxiety may find that drug use exacerbates their symptoms.

Not everyone who uses drugs will develop a mental illness. Factors like genetics, environment, and psychological factors all play pivotal roles in the development of mental illness. That said, drug use may increase the risk of developing or worsening a mental illness in some individuals.

How does addiction affect mental health, then?

Effects of Drugs on Mental Health

The effects of drugs on mental health can be multifaceted. While some drugs can be used to treat mental health disorders, others can have negative effects on mental health and worsen pre-existing conditions. Here are some of the ways that drugs can affect mental health:

  1. Increased risk of mental illness: Long-term use of certain drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine has been linked to an increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
  2. Worsening of existing mental health conditions: Drug use can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions. For example, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience manic episodes when using drugs like cocaine or antidepressants. Similarly, individuals with depression or anxiety may find that drug use inflames their symptoms.
  3. Addiction: Sustained drug use often leads to addiction in the form of substance use disorder. All addictions can have a significant impact on mental health. Addiction may also cause changes in brain chemistry that can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
  4. Interactions with psychiatric medications: Drugs can interact with psychiatric medications, provoking severe side effects and impairing the effectiveness of treatment.
  5. Impaired cognitive functioning: Chronic drug abuse can impair cognitive functioning, leading to problems with memory, attention, and decision-making. This can have a negative impact on mental health and may also lead to an increased risk of accidents and injuries.

Mental Illness Caused by Drugs

Drug use can cause or contribute to the development of mental illness in some individuals. Here are some examples of mental illnesses that can be caused or worsened by drug use:

Mental Health and Alcohol Treatment

Alcohol abuse and addiction can have a significant impact on mental health, and treatment for alcohol use disorders often includes addressing mental health concerns. Here are some of the ways that mental health and alcohol treatment can be intertwined:

  • Dual diagnosis treatment: Many people who struggle with alcohol use disorders also have co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Dual diagnosis treatment programs address both the addiction and the underlying mental health condition simultaneously.
  • Therapy: Therapy is a crucial component of alcohol addiction treatment and can help individuals address underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to their addiction. Psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) are proven effective for treating both alcohol addiction and mental health concerns.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): MAT can be helpful for individuals who are struggling with both alcohol addiction and mental health conditions. For example, medications like naltrexone and acamprosate can help reduce alcohol cravings, while antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can help treat underlying mental health concerns during ongoing therapy at an inpatient or outpatient rehab.
  • Support groups: Support groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) can be beneficial for those in recovery from alcohol addiction who are also struggling with mental health concerns. These groups provide a supportive community and can help individuals learn coping skills and strategies for managing both addiction and mental health.
  • Holistic treatments: Holistic treatment approaches – yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, for example – can also be helpful for individuals in recovery from alcohol addiction who are struggling with mental health concerns. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety and promote overall well-being and relaxation.

Mental Health and Drug Treatment

Similar to alcohol addiction, drug addiction can also have a significant impact on mental health. Individuals who struggle with drug addiction may experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. This means that it’s vital for effective drug treatment programs to address both addiction and mental health concerns.

Dual Diagnosis

If someone has a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder that present simultaneously, this is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

Data from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) indicate that 17 million U.S. adults reported a dual diagnosis in 2020.

Either the addiction or the mental health condition may present first, without one condition necessarily causing the other.


You should now be clear on the issue, “Is substance abuse a mental illness.” How can you engage with treatment for addiction co-occurring with mental health issues, though?

Studies show that a coordinated and integrated approach to treating dual diagnosis produces the most favorable outcomes.

Treatment for dual diagnosis typically involves a combination of:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling

It is essential to address both the substance use disorder and the mental health condition to minimize complications and increase the chance of sustained recovery and sound mental health.

Get Treatment for Mental Health and Alcohol or Drug Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, we specialize in treating all types of addictions, mental health disorders, and co-occurring disorders.

Dual diagnosis treatment typically begins with a supervised medical detox. Access FDA-approved medications to streamline the drug or alcohol withdrawal process at our luxury beachside facilities in Newport Beach and Long Beach. Once you are detoxed, you can shift into one of these treatment programs:

  • 30-day inpatient program
  • Intensive outpatient program
  • Dual diagnosis treatment program

All Gratitude Lodge treatment programs for addiction and mental health issues combine science-backed and holistic treatments that include MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, counseling (individual and group), family therapy, and holistic therapies. Additionally, treatment programs incorporate a robust aftercare component to minimize the chance of relapse derailing your recovery.Call admissions today at 888-861-1658 for immediate assistance.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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