acquiesce - February 17th, 2021

How Addiction Affects Your Mental Health

How are Addiction and Mental Health Connected?

If you have an addiction, as well as a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, this is called a co-occurring disorder. Fighting an addiction is no easy battle and it can be especially hard when mental health issues are also involved.

Co-occurring disorders, including both an addiction and mental health issue, have an impact on your ability to perform well at work/college/school, maintain healthy relationships with your friends and family and can make it difficult to cope with the many ups and downs of life.

The co-occurring disorders also impact each other. If your mental health is left untreated, you may find that your addiction gets worse- and vice versa- the stronger the addiction gets, the more likely the mental health problems will increase too.

The Chicken or the Egg?

A common misconception is that one of the co-occurring disorders directly causes the other, and a frequently asked question is “Which comes first? The addiction or the mental health problem?” The answer entirely depends on the individual, as each person is unique and has a different experience with mental health and addiction.

Alcohol and drugs are most commonly used to self-medicate mental health problems. Lots of people use alcohol or drugs as an attempt to ease the symptoms of mental health problems, to handle difficult emotions or to give them a boost in their mood. This addiction can start out by simple actions such as having an alcoholic drink to reduce the symptoms of anxiety in a social situation. This could then lead to them having a drink whenever they feel anxious and then becoming dependent on it in order to function. Although this may prove effective at first, the side effects of the substance abuse as well as gaining a dependency usually makes the mental health issue worse in the long run.

Alcohol and drug abuse can increase the risk of triggering an underlying mental health problem. The mental health of someone is determined by a range of factors including genetics, their environment and other external elements of their life. If you are at risk of developing a mental disorder, alcohol or drug abuse could be the final factor that could trigger it. Research carried out by 18 global research centres, led by Kings College found that daily use of high strength cannabis made people 5 times more at risk of developing psychosis. This is just one example of how drug abuse can increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder.

Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of existing mental health issues worse. 

It is possible for alcohol and drugs to interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication and mood stabilisers which could make them less effective and in turn make symptoms even worse. According to Drinkaware, alcohol can often make people lose their inhibitions and make them behave impulsively, which can unfortunately lead to self harm and even suicide.

How to Identify Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction can be broken down into four stages: Trigger, Avoidance, Substitution and Repetition. If you are struggling with your mental health as well as an addiction, this is most likely the trigger that fuels the addiction. Finding what your trigger is could be the first step towards recovery.


The trigger of an addiction is either an external action or internal thought that triggers strong feelings. These actions or feelings are most likely negative, and can be difficult to face or resolve alone. Some triggers could include stress from work, a traumatic experience or a hard breakup, but a great number of triggers are mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder.


Instead of continuing to struggle with these issues or seeking help from a doctor, these feelings and concerns will be pushed aside or avoided.


The positive feelings evoked by substances or behaviours will be used to replace those negative emotions. This is of course a quick fix and does not solve the problem long term but rather takes the focus away from it for a short time.


If these actions are repeated as a way to keep putting off having to deal with the negative emotions or actions and they start to become a dependency, then an addiction begins.

If you are unsure of what triggers your addiction, the Acquiesce rehab programme can work with you to recognise, understand and provide a solution to the psychological aspect of your addiction, including therapy for mental health disorders.

If someone has had an addiction for a long time, they may have even gained new triggers or developed another mental health disorder which only fuels the addiction further.

Acquiesce are here to help you get sober, address all of those triggers and teach you how to cope with them using a range of techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, psychosocial interventions, one-to-one counselling, 12 Step approaches, ITEP, Behavioural activation, mindfulness, art and music therapy. Our Urban Recovery Rehab model allows individuals to implement and practice these in the real world.

For more information, read about our different programmes here or contact us for a free confidential consultation here.

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