Mental Health Struggles That Can Lead to Addiction

Updated on 4/13/2023

Many individuals who do not have extensive knowledge of addiction may believe that it is an isolated issue. However, addiction commonly goes hand in hand with mental health disorders. To cope with the symptoms of mental health disorders, people may turn to drugs and alcohol as a relief. However, this often worsens the symptoms over time, causing the person to use more substances. This blog offers insight into understanding common mental health disorders that can lead to addiction, individuals can be better informed and prompted to seek help sooner.

A  co-occurring disorder is classified as a person that has both a mental health disorder alongside alcohol or drug addiction. Co-occurring disorders  are common, with almost half of individuals with mental health disorders struggling with addiction. However, it should be noted that having a mental health or substance use disorder does not mean they directly cause one another.

Causes of co-occurring disorders:

  • Genetics
  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Self-medication
  • Altered brain function due to substance use

Some mental health disorders are more common to occur alongside addiction than others. Understanding how these can lead to addiction can help you seek help before becoming stuck in the cycle of self-medication and mental health concerns. Such mental health disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Depression and Addiction

Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects individuals all over the country. Approximately 17 million American adults went through at least one major depressive episode in 2017. Depression does not discriminate, and it can affect anyone no matter their race, age, gender, economic class or education. While having depression does not mean you will develop an addiction to substances, it does increase your chances. The symptoms of depression can cause people to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their condition, which can worsen the symptoms over time, causing the individual to use more and finding themselves struggling with addiction.

Common Symptoms of Depression Include:

  • Reckless behavior
  • Consistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Concentration problems
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Changes in appetite and weight

Anxiety and Addiction

Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but an anxiety disorder can cause more severe symptoms. Anxiety disorders are more common than you may think, with an estimated 19.1% of adults in the United States diagnosed in 2017. There are various anxiety disorders, all of which can lead to addiction if the person struggling uses drugs or alcohol to relieve their symptoms. 

Common symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Intrusive fears
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain
  • Decline in personal relationships

There are various reasons anxiety may trigger someone to use drugs or alcohol, including genetic factors, biochemical factors, self-medication or the effects of substance use or withdrawal, which can cause anxiety symptoms.

PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after exposure to a traumatic event. There are a variety of causes of PTSD, including but not limited to:

  • Assaults
  • Natural disasters
  • Combat
  • Accidents
  • Abuse

Trauma is unfortunately common in individuals, with 60% of men and 50% of women likely to experience at least one traumatic event during their lifetime. In the U.S., it has been found that 8 million adults have PTSD during any given year. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), approximately half of individuals seeking help for substance use disorder (SUD) meet current criteria for PTSD.

PTSD often leads to addiction due to self-medication. Individuals may believe they can numb or escape their PTSD symptoms using drugs and alcohol, leading to more problems and wreak havoc on a person’s life. The only way to truly recover is to seek treatment for a dual diagnosis.

Many service members and veterans are often diagnosed with binge drinking in relation to their PTSD diagnosis. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD and SUD are strongly related in people who have served in the military.

  • Around two out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have SUD.
  • Almost one out of every three veterans seeking treatment for SUD also have PTSD.
  • In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about one in 10 returning veterans seen in the VA hospital have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Going to treatment at an accredited facility is the best way to ensure long-term recovery. Dual diagnosis treatment involves treating the person’s addiction and mental health disorder simultaneously. Treating these separately puts the person at more risk of relapsing later on. Treating both allows the person to heal and learn coping methods to deal with their addiction and mental health disorder in the future. Common treatment modalities for a dual diagnosis include:

  • Medically managed detox
  • Therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Group activities
  • Aftercare

Many mental health disorders can increase a person’s risk for developing an addiction. This can occur for various reasons, but self-medication is the most common cause. As people struggle with their mental health, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Casa Palmera is the place to go for an interdisciplinary, personal approach to healing. Contact us today to learn more.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.