Addiction And Mental Illness Correlation

Addiction And Mental Illness Correlation

Addiction And Mental Illness Correlation

Research shows that that a good number of individuals with mental disorders also suffer from substance abuse and vice verser. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), individuals suffering from mental health disorder account for the consumption of 38% of alcohol, 40% of cigarettes and 44% if cocaine.

Dr. Stephen Gilman an addiction psychiatrist from New York University observes that substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders often take place simultaneously. Researchers do not know however why this correlation exists. According to Dr. Gilman, about 50% of individuals suffering from addiction also suffer from a mental illness. And about 20% of individuals suffering from mental illness suffer from addiction problems. These numbers tend to be higher when specific mental conditions are looked into such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and antisocial personality disorders. The numbers are higher in patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A research conducted at the New York University indicated that:

  • Individuals suffering from alcohol addiction exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia when they went into withdraw after abruptly quitting alcohol.
  • Drugs and alcohol can lead to changes in one’s brain and these changes can lead to mental and personality disorders.
  • Most alcoholics also suffer from anxiety and depression. Alcoholic men in particular tend to suffer from antisocial personality disorders as compared to their non-alcoholic counterparts.

Underlying Causes of Mental Illness & Drug Abuse

Studies have shown that there are other underlying factors that could explain the simultaneous occurrence of mental illness and addiction. These include:

  • Studies conducted to compare fraternal and identical twins showed that the likelihood of having disorders in identical twins was higher than in fraternal twins. This shows that genetics could be responsible for some of mental illnesses and addictions.
  • Shared environment. Studies have shown that individuals who are exposed to certain environments are at a higher risk of developing substance addictions and mental illnesses. It is therefore not a wonder that some places have higher cases of mental illness and substance abuse than others. Accessibility to alcohol and drugs in some regions predispose a higher percentage of the population to the risk of developing these addictions, which could ultimately lead to mental illnesses.
  • Chemical deficiency. In situations where addiction and mental disorders occur simultaneously, neuro-chemical factors have been involved. Individuals who suffer from anxiety and alcoholism tend to have lower levels of the brain chemical serotonin. Research has also shown that mental disorders and addiction are linked to the dysfunction of monoamine oxidases, a group of chemicals found in the brain.


Many experts agree that diagnosis in cases where a patient is exhibiting both symptoms of addiction and mental illness is often difficult. For a proper diagnosis to be made, an individual would have to be substance free for no less than two weeks. Ideally, doctors treat both the psychological and addiction symptoms simultaneously. As a result, cases of misdiagnosis are not uncommon. For instance, an addict may exhibit symptoms that are mask bipolar disorder. Having a good medical history of the patient can help doctors identify the underlying issues and offer the appropriate course of treatment.

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