Substance Use and Mental Illness in the United States

man in chair with hand on head

Millions of people in the United States struggle with behavioral health issues. This category includes substance use disorders (SUD) and any type of mental illness. Often, these two conditions are inextricably linked — just under 8 million people struggle to overcome the ramifications of mental illness and opioid addiction. Learn how mental health and substance addictions such as opioid use disorder are interrelated and what you can do if you’re facing a dual diagnosis.

The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Addiction to Drugs or Opioids

More than one in four adults has a mental illness and comorbid substance use disorder. This condition, known as dual diagnosis, makes it nearly impossible to address one concern without dealing with the other. Experts believe that three main pathways can contribute to opioid use and mental health problems.

1. Mental Illness Can Contribute to Addiction

Some people take drugs or opioids to alleviate symptoms of their mental health disorder. Anxiety and depression especially can lead to drug use. Although self-medicating using drugs may seem to bring relief for a time, drugs exacerbate symptoms in the long run. Some individuals don’t even realize they have a mental health disorder as drug or opioid use can mask their need for professional treatment.

2. Addiction Can Contribute to Mental Health Problems

Addiction can take a grave toll on a person’s overall health. Besides the physical ramifications, opioid and drug use can have a serious impact on mental health. In these instances, mental illness is the result of drug misuse. Certain drugs can even change the brain’s structure and ability to function normally. This can lead to an underlying predisposition to mental illnesses such as mood disorders, anxiety or even schizophrenia.

3. Overlapping Risk Factors

Mental illness and SUDs share many of the same underlying risk factors. From genetic predispositions to environmental concerns, some people may be more prone to developing both mental health issues and a SUD because of the following risk factors:

  • Family history
  • Brain composition
  • Genetic vulnerabilities
  • Environmental influences
  • Early exposure to stress
  • Childhood or adult trauma

Help for Co-Occurring Opioid Addiction and Mental Illness

Whatever symptoms you faced first, it’s important to treat both conditions at the same time. At BAART Programs, our compassionate medical team offers medication-assisted treatment (MAT) along with essential counseling and recovery support services.

MAT addresses the physical effects of addiction, including painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so patients can focus on their recovery. However, counseling is also crucial to achieving overall wellness, especially for those facing mental illness. These therapeutic sessions allow patients to explore the underlying issues that led them down the path of addiction. If there is an undiagnosed mental health problem contributing to their SUD, we can refer patients for additional psychological services as needed.

Opioid use disorder and mental illness are both treatable conditions. If you would like to learn more about the MAT and counseling services available at BAART Programs, contact us today.


Medically Reviewed By:

BAART Clinical Team

BAART Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at BAART Programs is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. BAART is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing opioid addiction treatment services to the San Francisco Bay Area and greater United States since 1977.