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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Adkins

The Relationship Between Mental Health And Substance Abuse: 4 Facts You Need To Know

Updated: Mar 12


Mental health and substance abuse are often correlated with one another–one may lead to another or they can also occur together, which is more properly known as a “co-occurring diagnosis or disorder.” However, it is important to understand the difference along with what connects the two together. Here are four facts you need to know:


  1. Substance abuse is a mental health disorder. There are many disorders that fall under the “mental health” umbrella, and substance abuse is one of them. It is classified this way because substance abuse affects a person’s brain and behavior, which leads to an inability to control the use of a drug or medicine (legal or illegal).

  2. They both have common risk factors, including genetics or family history. Individuals can often be predisposed to mental health disorders, including substance abuse, depending on their family history. In fact, environmental factors, such as certain traumas, can influence our genetic makeup and how that is passed down through generations.

  3. Mental health disorders can lead to substance abuse disorder. We already know that they can co-occur. Co-occurring diagnoses or disorders mean that they co-exist at the same time or are diagnosed together–just like depression and anxiety can co-occur, so can a substance abuse disorder. This can be confusing, but it’s also important to understand that any mental health disorder can lead to a substance abuse disorder. This is because individuals who have a mental health disorder can begin using and misusing drugs or other medications as a way to cope, leading to abuse.

  4. Much like how they can co-occur or cause the other, substance abuse disorder also does not need a mental health disorder to occur at all. In fact, studies have shown that adolescents who experiment with substances have an increased vulnerability to developing a substance abuse disorder. Above we mentioned genetic risks, but psychosocial and environmental experiences/influences are factors as well–and there need not be the presence of a mental health disorder for any of these factors to lead to a substance abuse disorder.

We hope you understand the connection (or lack thereof) between mental health and substance abuse after learning a bit more. If you or a loved one are suffering from a mental health disorder and are concerned about their drug/medication use, or suffering from one or both of these disorders, do not hesitate to reach out to us, Adult Family Health Services, to explore your options for treatment and support. As such, if you are experiencing a crisis, we encourage you to call the new mental health crisis line, 9-8-8.

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