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Understanding the Mental Health Aspect of Addiction  

Jan 18, 2024 | FamiliesStrong Self-Care Info, News, Resources and Reports

Substance use disorder can be accompanied by other underlying mental health issues. Here’s how to support the whole person.  

Substance use disorder can strain an individual’s relationships with loved ones and friends. Among the factors that can make it especially challenging for those close to the user is the reality that a substance use disorder may only be part of a larger picture.

Substance use disorder and mental health conditions often occur together, complicating the individual’s treatment and their journey to recovery.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than one in four adults with serious mental health problems also has substance use issues. The mental health conditions that commonly accompany substance use disorder include depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

Understanding the Complexity

The relationship between substance use disorder and mental health is both complex and varied. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and others has shown the following:

  • Many mental health conditions and substance use disorder share common causes. Genetics, environmental influences, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences are among the risk factors that can influence the development of both substance use disorder and mental illness.
  • Mental disorders can trigger substance use. Those with mental disorders may turn to substances to “self-medicate” to manage the symptoms of the mental disorder. This can lead to excessive substance use which can, in turn, worsen the mental disorder.
  • Mental health conditions and substance use disorder aren’t always related. While substance use disorder and mental health conditions can be related, they aren’t always. In some individuals, they occur independently of each other.

Supporting the Whole Person

The fact that a loved one battling substance use disorder may also have one or more mental health conditions can make it especially challenging to support them. Still, you can help in multiple ways:

Acknowledge that substance use disorder may only be one of their challenges

Helping the whole person begins with seeing the whole person. That can mean recognizing the behaviors you may have believed were rooted in substance use disorder may be due, at least in part, to a mental disorder.

Employing empathy when dealing with the individual is important, especially if the mental disorder hasn’t been diagnosed.

Help them get a complete and accurate mental health evaluation

Effectively treating a mental health condition begins with an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect your loved one may need treatment beyond what they are receiving for their substance use disorder, you may be able to help connect them with the right resources to gain access to a full mental health evaluation.

Such an evaluation can result in the mental health diagnoses required to get the full range of treatment they need.

Guide them to the help they need

If an individual has substance use disorder and a mental health issue, they must receive treatment for both conditions. While substance use and mental health conditions require separate treatments, addressing one can positively impact the other. For example, being treated for a mental disorder can make the substance use disorder more manageable and vice versa.

A wide range of treatment options are available to address mental health issues. Depending on the condition and the individual’s situation, they can include medication, rehabilitation, support groups, and various forms of therapy.

Encouragement, advocacy, or even an act as simple as providing transportation to and from appointments can represent important forms of support for the individual.

Seek the Support You Need

Whether or not they have an accompanying mental disorder, effectively supporting a loved one with substance use disorder requires you to get the help and support you need first.

Families Strong offers group sessions, based on our years of experience assisting the loved ones of substance users. Contact our team today at (681) 378-2086 or email [email protected]. Families Strong offers 8-week long group sessions to equip you with the tools and resources to support your loved one no matter how tough things get.


Families Strong is a free, 8-week support group for the families and friends of individuals who are using substances. It is designed to help reduce the negative effects of substance use issues on families. The program is developed and guided by Mosaic Group, nationally recognized experts in behavioral health. To learn more about the program and how your organization or state agency can partner with Mosaic Group to implement it, contact us at [email protected].

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