Is Drug Addiction a Mental Health Disorder?

It is no surprise that most people that have an addiction issue also suffer from a mental illness and vice-versa. Why is this? Drug addiction is a mental health disorder. The DSM-5 calls drug addiction, substance use disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

Substance use disorder changes normal desires and priorities. It changes normal behaviors and interferes with the ability to work, go to school, and to have good relationships with friends and family. In 2014, 20.2 million adults in the U.S. had a substance use disorder and 7.9 million had both a substance use disorder and another mental illness. More than half of the people with both a substance use disorder and another mental illness were men (4.1 million). Having two illnesses at the same time is known as “comorbidity” and it can make treating each disorder more difficult. (NIH)

Mental health issues and substance use disorders co-occur for a few reasons. First of all, some illegal drugs can cause people to experience symptoms of a mental health problem. Secondly, a lot of people who have mental health disorders, that are either untreated or not treated properly, will misuse substances as a way of “self-medicating”. Lastly, substance use disorders and mental health issues both share some of the same underlying causes including changes in the brain’s composition, genetic vulnerabilities, and exposure to trauma and stress.

Substance use disorders most often occur in people with depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Substance Use Disorders and Addiction

Substance use disorders refer to substance use or dependence. Various physical, behavioral, and social changes often occur in someone struggling with a substance use disorder. Some of the physical changes that can occur can be a change in physical appearance or deterioration of physical appearance, weight loss or weight gain, bloodshot eyes or pupillary changes, impaired coordination, tremors, or speech, and unusual smells on the body, clothing, or breath.

When a person develops a substance use disorder, their behavior will be one of the first things that will be most noticeable. They may develop mood swings, be easily angered or irritable, show a lack of motivation, begin developing problems at work or school, have a sudden change in appetite or sleep patterns, experience a change in personality or attitude, develop secretive or suspicious behaviors, have periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness, and can appear anxious, fearful, or paranoid for no reason.

Substance use disorders can also cause several social changes to occur in a person. They may have a sudden change in friends, have legal problems, or an unexplained need for money or severe financial issues, and they will likely continue to use substances despite problems it may be causing.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

An individual that is suffering from both a mental illness and substance use disorder has a dual diagnosis. Someone with a dual diagnosis must have both conditions treated for the treatment to be effective, and they must stop using drugs and alcohol. There are a lot of drug addiction treatment facilities that do offer dual diagnosis treatment. Detoxing off of the illegal drugs and getting put on the correct psychiatric medication along with receiving behavioral, individual, and group therapies are very important for effectively treating both disorders.

Treatment for Mental Illnesses

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness, our mental health experts are available to assist you around the clock. Voices of Mental Health has a standing passion for helping others achieve peace, serenity, and fulfillment. We will help you access top treatment centers with caring and supportive assistance. You don’t have to suffer any longer, call us today.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Cayla Clark, BA

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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