The Link Between Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

The Link Between Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

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addiction and mental illnessMany men and women suffering from substance-use disorder (SUD) aka drug addiction also suffer from an underlying mental condition, illness or disorder. These mental conditions may be present before addiction or may arise once a person decides to get clean. Research suggests that there is a genetic disposition for both addiction and mental illness.  If a person is genetically susceptible, there is a greater risk of the second condition developing after the first appears.  So how does mental illness play a role in addiction, treatment and long-term recovery? Is there a link between drug addiction and mental illness?

Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that carries messages from one neuron to another. If dopamine levels are affected by heroin, opioids or other drugs, men and women are at greater risk of experiencing depression and/or schizophrenia. Anxiety and stress are known risk factors that possess a common neurobiological link between addiction and other mental disorders. When an overlap of brain areas involved in mental illness or addiction occur, research suggests that changes stemming from one may affect the other.

If a person first becomes addicted to heroin or other drugs, without any prior symptoms of mental disorder, the mind-altering substance literally changes the structure in the brain and how the brain functions. In many cases using drugs can numb our emotions.  Thus, many who get addiction treatment and become clean and sober will feel the symptoms of other mental conditions they possess. If a mental health condition already exists prior to the onset of addiction, it may cause an individual to seek out ways to escape the unpleasant feelings and as a result, may lead them to drugs and thus, addiction.  Below, we’ve listed several mental health disorders, symptoms and problems associated with each.


Anxiety has many forms and there are many symptoms of anxiety. Panic- feelings of terror, can come on suddenly with no warning and can be triggered by certain people, places or things. Social- fear of being judged by others, avoids social events, feels overwhelmed in large crowds or unfamiliar people, feeling self-conscious. Generalized- Anything can cause feelings of anxiety, feels anxious most of the time.  Symptoms of anxiety include fear, panic, elevated heart rate, sleep problems, nausea, tense muscles, lack of calmness.

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD occurs after a traumatic event, may experience flashbacks. Symptoms include reliving events, avoiding situations, problems expressing feelings, feeling angry, sleep problems, constant fear, reckless behavior, suicidal thoughts, relationship problems, etc.

ADD/ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder

People who suffer from this disorder have a general lack of focus and concentration. Symptoms include reckless driving, distractible, constantly losing things, overspending, trouble relaxing, trouble listening, procrastination and more.

Depression (Unipolar Depression)

People who are depressed feel empty inside.  They say that sadness is the pain of living whereas depression is the pain of dying.  Sadness is a normal emotion, but depression is a condition that involves much deeper, unresolved pain and conflict.  People who are depressed often feel empty and numb.  Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, feeling guilty, worthless, hopeless, sleeping too much or not enough, lack of motivation, loss of interest, weight issues, lack of energy and concentration, thoughts of suicide and more.

Bipolar Disorder (Bipolar Depression)

Those who experience bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings, feeling happy and energized to feeling depressed and hopeless. In between they may feel normal. Symptoms include mania, engaging in risky behavior, sadness, suicidal thoughts and more.


Schizophrenics typically cannot distinguish between reality and imagination.  It’s not the same as having multiple personalities which is a common mistake.  There is no cure for Schizophrenia.  it’s is a lifelong disorder but can be controlled with proper treatment. Symptoms include distorted thoughts, hallucinations, fear, paranoia, feeling withdrawn, problems with work and relationships, etc.

Anyone experiencing any type of mental illness are encouraged to consult a therapist or psychiatrist.  Left untreated, mental disorders can be very dangerous in recovery. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help.

Dual diagnosis addiction treatment centers and drug rehab facilities can help men and women suffering from addiction and other mental health conditions.  See our list of Approved NAATC Addiction Treatment Centers.

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Written by William Charles and Megan Sarah, Owner/Publisher and Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

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