1. Home
  2. Community
  3. Mental illness and addiction

Mental illness and addiction


If you have a mental illness, you may be at greater risk for both substance abuse and addiction. If you have an addiction problem, you may be putting yourself at risk for developing a mental illness. These two conditions all too often go hand in hand, feeding off of each other and endangering those who are struggling with them.

Treatment is the best way to either prevent these co-arising issues or recover from them but, of course, that requires detection and recognition of the problem. Here is a short overview on addiction, mental illness, and how you can recognize an at-risk loved one.

Self-medication is a major perpetrator

In people with mental illness, particularly untreated mental illness, self-medication is a common issue that tends to result in addiction. Self-medication is the abuse of a substance in an attempt to control the symptoms of an illness.

When a person abuses an addictive substance, they may believe that they are reducing their symptoms when in actuality they are making them worse. Substances may dull symptoms for a short time, but when the high has ended, they will come back worsened with each use. These worsening symptoms then prompt the individual to abuse the substance again in another attempt to manage their symptoms. This is how an addiction takes root.

Substance abuse alters the mind

When a substance is abused for long enough, the mind and its chemical balances are altered, creating problems that did not exist before. The symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety may begin to appear. For some, mental illness can come from their addiction while others will simply experience a few of the associated symptoms. With treatment, these symptoms can be managed and even corrected if help is sought quickly.

Recognizing a loved one in need

Mental illness should not be taken lightly. Anything from anxiety to schizophrenia can result in a life-altering addiction and worsened symptoms. There are many signs of mental illness, and all are dependent on what disorder your loved one has. However, if you notice that they have withdrawn from friends and family, are isolating themselves, or if they appear to be using alcohol as a crutch, they may be self-medicating for an untreated illness.

These can also be signs of a developing addiction. Alcohol is one of the most common addictions as well as forms of self-medication. Your loved one should be capable of handling any situation without an addictive substance. If you notice any overuse or consistent use of an addictive substance, gently confront your loved one and urge them to seek help.

No one wants to believe that someone they care about has a serious mental health problem. It is especially difficult to confront a resistant person about your concerns. However, seeking treatment as soon as possible is your loved one’s best chance at recovering from both addictions and mental illness. These two intertwined conditions can very easily spell disaster for your loved one’s life. So, if you are worried, do not ignore it. Your actions can save someone you care about from a lifetime of struggle.

Sara Bell is a nursing student, writer, and researcher. She loves teachers and appreciates the importance of education. Bell grew up with two teachers as parents and loves learning.

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

cheryl meeGet your free access to the exclusive newsletter of American Nurse Journal and gain insights for your nursing practice.

NurseLine Newsletter

  • Hidden

*By submitting your e-mail, you are opting in to receiving information from Healthcom Media and Affiliates. The details, including your email address/mobile number, may be used to keep you informed about future products and services.


More Perspectives