It’s not uncommon for substance abuse and mental illness to exist together. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a coping mechanism to deal with the symptoms of mental disorders, especially before affected individuals receive a diagnosis and don’t understand why they are feeling a certain way. Other times, substance abuse can lead to depression or anxiety when things start to deteriorate at home, work, or school because of the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Coping with either substance abuse or mental illness alone can be difficult. Confronting both disorders presents other unique challenges. Per figures from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, up to half of all people affected by severe mental illness abuse alcohol or drugs. NAMI also estimates that nearly 30 percent of all individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder will engage in substance abuse.

Research shows that individuals living with both drug addiction and mental illness have a greater chance of relapsing and developing more serious mental health conditions. Additionally, symptoms of mental health disorders often worsen with continued substance use. This may be due to interactions between the alcohol or drugs and required medications. Or, it could be the result of irregular or discontinued use of prescribed medications.

Treating co-existing disorders requires a combined approach addressing issues of both substance abuse and mental illness. Per information from SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, effective treatment for both conditions should:

1. Help affected individuals set short and long term recovery goals
2. Connect participants with support networks and employment services that will aid in recovery
3. Educate regarding the impact and role of substance abuse in one’s life
4. Provide therapy designed with both disorders in mind.

It is possible for individuals living with co-occurring disorders to live a normal, healthy, and productive life. Family Guidance Center can help. Family Guidance works within the community to offer mental health and addiction treatment services for lasting recovery. To learn more, visit our website at