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Substance Use and Mental Health Issues

Topic Overview

Some people have an alcohol or drug use problem and a mental health issue. To get better, they need to get help for both. Mental health issues that can happen with alcohol or drug use problems include depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.

Either an alcohol or drug use problem or a mental health issue may come first. If you have a mental health issue, you may use alcohol or drugs to try to feel better. Or a substance use problem may lead to mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or rage.

People with mental health issues may use drugs and alcohol:

  • To feel normal. You may use drugs or alcohol because it helps you feel normal and accepted. It may make you feel like you don't have a mental health issue or are not different from others.
  • To self-medicate. You may use drugs or alcohol to reduce anxiety, depression, sleep problems, tension, hallucinations (like hearing voices), and the side effects of medicines.

While using drugs or alcohol may make you feel better for a short while, regular or heavy use can actually make your mental health issues worse over time. You can get caught in a cycle of drug or alcohol use. You use these substances to feel better. But they actually do harm. They harm your health and relationships and make your symptoms worse. To feel better, you use more substances, and this continues the cycle.

It's important to find ways to cope with your mental health symptoms other than using alcohol or drugs. Asking family and friends for help, getting active, or meditating are some things that may help.

Treating substance use and mental health issues

It's best to get help for the mental health issue and the substance use problem at the same time. When you get help for both, you have a better chance of getting better and less chance of returning to drugs or alcohol.

You most likely will attend individual and group therapy for both. You also will learn about alcohol and drugs, exercise, and healthy eating.

Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and LifeRing are often part of medical care and recovery.


Current as of: June 29, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health

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