Can Mental Illness Cause Addiction?


Yes: that’s the forthright answer. But how can mental health issues lead to addiction in the first place? Well, the relationship between the two is a rather complex one: an awkward tango of sorts, if I may. In most cases, mental issues rear their ugly head first, then substance use and subsequent addiction show up on stage.

How can mental illness cause addiction? Veritas Detox can help you make the connection between the two. For the sake of this discussion, the term drugs refer to either recreational (legal or illegal) or prescription drugs. Let’s examine the issue in detail below.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Self-Medication

A dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder refers to the same thing: a situation in which a patient is dealing with an addiction issue and a mental illness concurrently. Some mental illnesses are commonly linked to addiction. These include the following:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

Co-occurring disorders tend to affect each other. For instance, if you’re dealing with depression and alcohol abuse and both are left untreated, both problems could worsen. The same would happen if you treated one condition in place of the other- the untreated issue can exacerbate.

On a related note, if you self-medicate (opt to use drugs or alcohol in the hope of alleviating symptoms of mental illness), your symptoms could worsen further down the road. Such a rationale for self-medication can be counter-intuitive. Why?

If you’re dealing with depression or an anxiety disorder, you might consider “drowning your worries and sorrows” by indulging in your favorite tipple. Booze can provide temporary relief. But over time, you’d need more alcohol to relieve your feelings, leading you further down the rabbit hole. You can end up with an addiction problem on the one hand and an unresolved mental illness on the other.

Indistinguishable Symptoms

Let’s consider the symptoms of depression for a moment. These could include persistent sadness, irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and tiredness.

Now, let’s alter course and consider the symptoms of alcohol dependence- anxious thoughts, post-hungover guilt, and general weariness come to mind. Do withdrawal symptoms such as having trouble sleeping and insomnia ring a bell?

Well, these unsettling similarities can make it difficult to tell a person with a mental health condition from an alcoholic. Plus, a person dealing with a mental illness could resort to drug or alcohol abuse further compounds matters. In turn, addiction would aggravate the mental illness, leading to a vicious cycle.

The resemblance can also make treatment difficult, as caregivers would have to contend with two conditions at a go. It can also be challenging to tell which condition preceded the other as addiction could also cause mental illness and vice versa.

Aside from that, mental illness can make you lose your inhibitions. Put, if you have a mental disorder, you’re more prone to engage in risky behavior such as using illegal drugs. A mental disorder could impair your judgment, causing you to take higher quantities of addictive substances.

Shared Underlying Causes

Mental illness and substance abuse(addiction) can co-occur. Here’s a peek at a few underlying factors that might explain this complex relationship.


Exposure to trauma in your formative years could lead to mental health issues later in life. Let’s suppose you were brought up in a stressful living environment characterized by spousal or child abuse. Such early trauma can trigger mental illnesses such as depression.

Unfortunately, in an uninformed effort to deal with depression, you might be tempted to try out drugs. Your initial attempt to find some reprieve can lead you towards uncharted territory, and before you know it, you’re facing the seemingly inescapable reality: addiction.

Genetic Makeup

Still, anxiety disorders could result from genetic vulnerabilities- something we mostly have little or no control over. It might even seem like the die is cast for some of us.

Your genes could also work against you, putting you at risk for drug abuse. In short, if you’re at risk of an anxiety disorder, the same genes could make you vulnerable to addiction.

Treatment: The Best Alternative

A treatment program is the best approach to dealing with mental illness. A tailored treatment plan that addresses your particular issue can set you on a path to recovery. Ensure that the program you enroll in treats the problem you are undergoing.

Aside from that, treatment should address the root causes of a mental problem and addiction. Both should be treated together because leaving one issue untreated would be akin to resolving half the issues.

Overall, does mental illness cause addiction? No. Can it cause addiction? Yes. Mental illness puts you at greater risk for addiction. It’s imperative to address such risk factors and inherent issues by seeking treatment before your situation spirals out of control.