Mental Illness, Social Issues, We Are #Fearless
Leave a Comment

#Fearless Family: How Substance Abuse Affects Mental Health

By Sonia Tagliareni of
#Fearless Family Writer

Mental illness and substance use disorders go hand in hand. People struggling with drug use disorders are twice as likely as the general population to struggle with mood and anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 7.9 million Americans suffered from a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder. People suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders are more likely to experience addiction, according to

Substance use disorders and mental health disorders share similar risk factors, including:

  • Genetic risk factors that make a person vulnerable to substance use and mental health disorders
  • Environmental risk factors, such as stress, trauma and early exposure to drugs

They also have similar traits, such as:

  • The ability to change similar parts of the brain
  • The ability to disrupt development, especially during early childhood

People who use drugs may experience symptoms of mental illness. For example, people who abuse marijuana are at an increased risk of psychosis, according to NIDA. Similarly, people suffering from mental illnesses may resort to drugs to self-medicate, which may lead to a substance use disorder.

According to a 2005 study published in the Health Services Research journal, 51 percent of Americans with a substance use disorder also had a mental disorder during their lifetime. The mental health disorders often developed first. Researchers explained that individuals suffering from mental illness were likely to use psychoactive drugs to self-medicate their symptoms.

The study found that 72 percent of participants wanted to treat their disorders on their own, and 60 percent thought that their problem would solve itself. Other barriers to treatment included a negative perception of treatment effectiveness, financial constraints, uncertainty about where to receive treatment and the inconvenience of treatment.

“Correct diagnosis is critical to ensuring appropriate and effective treatment,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of NIDA, wrote in a blog.

According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, 45 percent of individuals in the United States requiring substance abuse treatment also have a co-occurring mental disorder.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends several ways to increase the effectiveness of treatment for co-occurring disorders. These include:

  • Staged interventions, where the client progresses through treatment stages
  • Assertive outreach, where programs ensure that clients have access to treatment services
  • Motivational interventions, where therapists inspire the client to want a better life
  • Counseling, where the client attends family, group or individual sessions to help them cope with their disorders and work toward recovery

Because of high comorbidity rates between substance use disorders and mental illness, NIDA suggests that individuals looking for treatment for either condition be tested for both. Tailoring behavioral therapies to a person’s specific needs increases the effectiveness of treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Sonia Tagliareni is a writer and researcher for, an online resource that provides information about addiction and treatment. She is passionate about helping people. She started her professional writing career in 2012 and has since written for the finance, engineering, lifestyle and entertainment industries.


Harris, K.M. & Edlund, M.J. (2005, February). Self-Medication of Mental Health Problems: New Evidence from a National Survey. Retrieved from (n.d.). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010, September). Why Do Drug Use Disorders Often Co-occur with Other Mental Illnesses? Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011, March). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, March 8). Mental and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017, April 9). Behavioral Health Treatments and Services. Retrieved from

Thank you to Sonia & DrugRehab for sharing this incredibly informative story!

If you would like to join the #Fearless Family, please visit the #Fearless Family page for more information on submission guidelines!

If you would like to email #Fearless, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to We do our best to respond within 48 hours, but if for some reason we cannot get back to you in that time frame, we promise we will always respond as soon as possible. You can also find us on any of the following social media sites: FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram!

Lastly, we run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s