Why Does Mental Illness Increase the Risk of Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can negatively impact every area of a person’s life. People who suffer from addiction often also have underlying mental health conditions. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Of the 20.3 million adults with substance use disorders, 37.9% also had mental illnesses.”[1]

While mental illness can develop after an addiction, it is more common for psychiatric disorders to come first. Many people who suffer from mental health conditions have a hard time coping with their symptoms and asking for help which causes them to begin self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, leading to the development of addiction.

Self-medication is one of the reasons that mental health conditions increase the risk of addiction, but there are other factors to consider as well. Regardless of the circumstances, mental illness increases the risk of addiction.

Understanding the Relationship Between Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Addiction

Mental health conditions, substance abuse, and addiction are connected for various reasons. First, it’s important to note that having a co-occurring mental illness and addiction does not necessarily mean that one condition is causing the other. There are several ways that you could develop both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, three different pathways contribute to the comorbidity of addiction and mental illness. These include:[2]

  • Common risk factors can contribute to mental illness, substance use, and addiction.
  • Mental illness may contribute to substance use and addiction.
  • Substance use and addiction can contribute to the development of mental illness.

When you look at the rates of mental illness among adolescents who suffer from substance use disorders, the numbers are even higher. Estimated rates of co-occurring mental illness among adolescents with substance use disorders range from 60 to 75 percent.[3]

There is a clear connection between mental health issues and addiction, with a few different possibilities on how the two conditions form. In many cases, mental illness develops before substance abuse. However, an individual can develop both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition because of shared underlying risk factors.

Why Do Mental Health Issues Increase Addiction Risk?

When you have a mental health condition, you must receive some form of professional treatment to learn how to live with your illness and manage symptoms healthily. When a mental health condition is left untreated, your risk of developing a substance use disorder increases.

But why? What does untreated mental illness have to do with substance abuse and addiction?

The following factors contribute to an increased risk of addiction for people who suffer from mental health conditions:

Common Risk Factors

Mental health conditions and addiction share common risk factors. For example, both mental illnesses and substance use disorders develop when an individual experiences adverse childhood events, has a lack of parental supervision or has a family history of mental illness, substance use, and suicidal behavior. All of these experiences increase your risk of developing either a mental illness, substance use disorder, or both.[5]


Another reason that mental illness and substance use disorders co-occur is because of self-medication. Suffering from the symptoms of a mental health condition without any professional help can cause it to become difficult to function in your daily life, causing you to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms as a form of self-medication, leading to the development of addiction.

Symptoms of Impulsivity

Lastly, certain mental illnesses cause symptoms of impulsivity. For example, individuals who are experiencing a manic episode from bipolar disorder experience impulsive behavior which can encourage them to engage in risky behaviors, like overspending, gambling, unsafe sex, or substance abuse.

If you suffer from a mental health condition that causes symptoms of impulsivity, you could begin engaging in substance abuse. Over time, this could cause you to develop a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Mental Health Conditions that Increase the Risk of Addiction

Addiction can co-occur with any mental health condition, however, it is more common among certain illnesses. One of the most common conditions for addiction to co-occur is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of this condition and the memories of trauma cause individuals to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to numb their emotions and forget about the trauma that is affecting them.

Other mental health conditions that are commonly associated with substance use disorders include:[5]

Find a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program in Southern California Today

If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms of a mental illness and engaging in substance abuse, it’s time to seek help. Co-occurring disorders require integrated treatment that addresses both conditions at the same time. Reputable addiction rehab programs like Arise Treatment Center can provide you with the support and tools you need to recover from both of your disorders.

At Arise Treatment Center, we understand that everyone is unique and that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all situation. That’s why we approach treatment with individually-tailored care plans and a comprehensive clinical approach. Throughout your experience with us, we are committed to working alongside you to make sure your needs are met.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a team member about your dual diagnosis treatment options. We’re always here to help.


  1. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/why-there-comorbidity-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illnesses
  3. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/youth-mental-health/co-occurring
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8429329/
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness


We're Ready To Help You Begin A New Life

Our Team of Qualified Addiction Experts are Here to Help