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What Is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?

What is the relationship between mental illness and substance use? Read on to learn more about dual diagnosis and how to get care at South Shore Recovery.


What is the relationship between mental illness and substance use? Mental illness and substance use are two puzzle pieces that often affect each other. Many people with mental health disorders are more likely to have substance use issues and vice versa.

Studies show that over nine million people in the U.S. have co-occurring disorders, and this number rises yearly.1 This increasing diagnostic trend makes it essential to know the answer to the question, “What is the relationship between mental illness and substance use?”
Mental Illness and Substance Use?

What Is A Mental Health Disorder?

A mental disorder is a significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior. Just like our bodies sometimes get sick, our minds also face health challenges. These challenges might affect the way you think, feel, or even how you interact with others.2
Mental health conditions can affect individuals in varying ways. Some people may feel depressed or overly anxious, whereas others experience more physical symptoms like trouble focusing or sleeping.

Common Mental Health Disorders

There are various classes of mental health conditions. Some common mental health disorders include:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Substance Use Disorder

What Is A Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder (SUD) occurs when a person has trouble controlling their use of certain substances, such as drugs or alcohol. These substances can affect the way our bodies and minds work.3
When someone has a substance use disorder, it means they might use and depend on these substances more than they should.
This can lead to difficulties in school, work, and personal relationships. Eventually, it may even lead to the deterioration of their own health – both mental and physical.

Common Substance Use Disorders

There are different levels of a substance use disorder, from mild to severe. Substance use disorders may also involve a wide range of substances.
Some common substances that may cause individuals to develop an addiction include:
  • Alcohol
  • Opioids, such as morphine, fentanyl, or codeine
  • Stimulants, like cocaine or MDMA
  • Cannabis
  • Hallucinogens, such as LSD
  • Benzodiazepines, like Xanax (Alprazolam) or Valium (Diazepam)
These are just a few examples. Behaviors may also lead to certain addictions, such as gambling.

What Is The Relationship Between Mental Illness And Substance Use?

Both conditions are connected in a way that often affects how treatment and symptoms interconnect.
Here are a few vital aspects to understand about the relationship between the two:


Sometimes, when people are dealing with mental health symptoms, they may try to self-medicate with substances such as drugs or alcohol.

Here’s how self-medication may start:
  • Temporary Relief: Substance use can make people feel good for a while. For others, substances help them forget their worries. This offers the illusion of a break from their difficult thoughts and feelings.
  • Sleep Problems: Sometimes, mental health issues can make sleeping harder. People might use substances to help them sleep. However, this often worsens sleeping habits.
  • Social Situation: Being around others using substances may encourage substance use. Substance use is then initiated because they want to fit in.
Using substances this way can lead to a cycle of feeling worse and using more substances. This goes on to affect relationships, work, and overall health.

Brain Chemistry

What is the relationship between mental illness and substance use? Both mental illness and substances can affect how the brain works. They can impact emotions, thoughts, and the way we feel happiness.4
In some instances, substance use may cause changes in brain function and structure. This makes it more likely for individuals to develop a mental disorder.
This often occurs because of:
  • Chemicals: Your brain uses special chemicals to send messages and control moods. Substances can change the balance of these chemicals, making your brain work differently.
  • Risk Factors: For people with mental health problems, substances can be a risk for further symptoms. Substances can heighten mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or even hallucinations.
  • Anxiety Amplifier: Some substances, like stimulants, can make your heart race or affect other physical aspects. This is especially harmful to people with anxiety issues.
  • Ups and Downs: Substances can affect your mood. They might give a temporary high but often lead to crashes when they wear off. This rollercoaster can be difficult for people with depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Confusion and Paranoia: Certain substances can make you feel confused and paranoid. This can also lead to hallucinations.

Imagine your brain as a delicate machine with many buttons and switches. Certain substances can press those buttons in a way that affects operations. This can be a problem, especially if someone already has mental health symptoms.

Genetic Factors

Genetic, environmental, and neurological factors work together. These factors often decide how likely mental illness and substance use are to happen simultaneously for some individuals.
Here is what to know:
  • Genetic Aspects: Genes are passed down in each family. These genes can influence how your brain works and how you react to things. Some people inherit genes that make them more prone to mental illness or using substances.
  • Environmental Effects: This includes where you live, your family, and your friends around you. If you’re in a place where people use substances often or where it is encouraged, this may increase the chance you’ll use them too.
  • Neurological Parts: Sometimes, certain neurological symptoms can make you more vulnerable to mental health issues and substance use

In short, the way genes, environment, and brain work together can influence whether you’ll have both mental health issues and substance use problems. Understanding these factors helps experts provide better care for people with co-occurring disorders.

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use in Terms of Treatment?

Mental health conditions and substance use disorders are complex issues. Both conditions can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The treatment or therapies for these conditions are designed to help individuals improve their well-being and lead healthier lives.
Dual diagnosis treatment involves simultaneously treating both a mental health condition and substance use disorder. Specialized treatment addresses both conditions to achieve better outcomes. This care is possible by knowing what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use.
Some common treatments utilized in dual diagnosis care include:


Talk therapies are also known as counseling or psychotherapy. They are a cornerstone of treating mental health conditions and substance use disorders. These treatments involve talking with a trained professional. This expert works to help you understand your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
Therapies can be different based on the condition and its underlying causes. Common types include:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors, teaching you skills to manage challenges better.5
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This is particularly helpful for conditions like borderline personality disorder. DBT focuses on managing emotions, improving relationships, and building skills for distress coping.
  • Motivational Interviewing: This is often used for substance use disorders. It helps individuals find motivation to change harmful behaviors and make positive changes.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Some mental health conditions and substance use disorders can benefit from medication. These drugs help balance brain chemicals and reduce symptoms.
Some common examples of medications utilized during treatment include:
  • Antidepressants: These are used to treat conditions like depression and anxiety. They work by regulating mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain.
  • Antipsychotics: These help manage symptoms of conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. They work by stabilizing thoughts and emotions.
  • Medications for Substance Use Disorders: Certain medications can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. They help support recovery from substances like alcohol or opioids.

Support Groups

Connecting with others who are going through similar challenges can be very helpful. Support groups provide a safe space to share experiences and exchange coping strategies. Group members also offer continual encouragement.

Holistic Approaches

These treatments consider the whole person. They focus on physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Techniques like mindfulness, yoga, and meditation can complement traditional therapies.

Family Therapy

Involving family members in the treatment process can help improve relationships. Family therapy also helps boost communication and understanding. This method applies to many mental health and substance use concerns.
Remember, treatment approaches should be tailored to each person’s unique needs. It’s essential to work closely with mental health professionals. These experts help determine the best treatment plan for each situation.

Why Should Only Qualified Experts Treat Mental Health And Substance Use Conditions?

Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders often require more care during treatment than just caring for one disorder at a time. This generally necessitates the help of caring and knowledgeable experts during the treatment process.
These professionals can provide:

Specialized Knowledge

Qualified experts, like psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors, have studied and trained for a long time to understand these conditions. They know how the mind works and how substances can affect it. This specialized knowledge helps them provide the right kind of help.
They understand what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use disorders. They can help you get the personalized care you need.

Accurate Diagnosis

Qualified experts can determine what’s going on with your mental health or substance use. It is important to get the proper diagnosis as early as possible, as this leads to the right treatment.6

Safe Treatments

Some treatments that might seem helpful could actually be harmful. Experts know the safe and effective ways to help with these conditions. They will help create a plan that works best for you.
Also, if you’re suffering from a substance use disorder, it can be dangerous to detox at home. Professional care can ensure you detox in a safe manner.

Personalized Care

Everyone is different. What works for one person might not work for another. Qualified experts can create a treatment plan that’s just right for you. They consider your unique needs, challenges, and strengths.

Monitoring Progress

Recovery takes time, and experts can track your progress. They can tell if the treatment is working well or if changes must be made. This helps you stay on the path to feeling better.

Preventing Complications

Mental health and substance use conditions can lead to other problems if not treated properly. Experts know how to spot these complications early and stop them from worsening.

Support and Understanding

Dealing with these conditions can be challenging. Experts are there to support you in any way you may need. They listen without judgment and can offer guidance to help you manage your struggles.

Ethical Guidelines

Qualified experts follow strict rules and guidelines to ensure they do what’s best for you. They have your well-being as their top priority.

Continued Learning

The mental health and substance use field is constantly changing. Experts keep up with the latest research and methods to provide the best care possible.
Remember, it’s okay to ask questions and ensure the person helping you is qualified. Your well-being is always the primary important goal. Getting help from the right experts can make a significant positive difference in recovery.
what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use

How Can South Shore Recovery Help?

South Shore Recovery is an outpatient addiction treatment center in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our center provides programs like a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and routine outpatient programs.

Our center is located in the heart of Plymouth, making it easy for patients to commute while getting the full benefits of outpatient care.

What Do We Offer?

We offer care using the highest standards based on modern research and clinical best practices. We provide treatment modalities focused around person-centered care.
We also provide evidence-based therapies, such as CBT, DBT, and MI. Holistic care is also very important, so we incorporate alternative therapeutic activities to promote whole health and encourage fun and new activities for people in early recovery.

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Opportunities

We offer co-occurring disorders treatment for many conditions, some of which include:
  • Anger  
  • Anxiety  
  • Bipolar Disorder  
  • Codependency  
  • Depression  
  • Eating Disorders  
  • Emotional Disturbance  
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder  
  • Self-Esteem Issues  
  • Trauma/PTSD  
  • Cutting Addiction  
  • Compulsive Gambling  
  • Video Game Addiction  
  • Kleptomania  
  • Exercise Addiction  

Get in Touch Today

Getting help for co-occurring disorders requires the right care from the right professionals. Call our team at South Shore Recovery for more information on the relationship between mental illness and substance use, as well as how we can help you.
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Questions About Treatment?

If you or your loved one are ready to begin healing from substance use disorder or mental health challenges in Plymouth, Massachusetts, South Shore Recovery is here for you. Let us guide you on your journey toward sustainable wellness by reaching out to our knowledgeable and compassionate team today.