Is Addiction Considered A Mental Health Disorder?

Because addiction leads to cognitive and behavioral changes, it is considered a mental health condition.

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental health condition.

This categorization by NIMH rests on the fact that alcohol and drug abuse cause behavioral and cognitive changes that affect all aspects of the affected person’s life.

However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), categorize drug or alcohol abuse differently.

Defining The Nature Of Drug Addiction

Addiction is defined as a relapsing disorder that involves compulsive alcohol or drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences for their professional or personal life.

This behavior is just one symptom of the way addiction disrupts normal brain function and damages areas that regulate impulsivity and decision-making.

While addiction can affect anyone, there are biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that can increase the risk that someone will become addicted to drugs or alcohol if they are exposed to these substances.

Despite debates over how addiction is categorized, all scientific evidence demonstrates that substance abuse disorders are medical conditions that leave physical markers on the brain.

The Disease Model Of Addiction

Substance abuse is defined as a disease by most medical associations and healthcare providers, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

Under the disease model of addiction there are a variety of contributing risk factors that increase the likelihood of addiction. These include behavioral, psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

According to this model, addiction is a repeating cycle with three stages that each affect a specific region of the brain. These stages are binging, withdrawal, and preoccupation.

As a person moves through this cycle they typically indulge in substance abuse, attempt to reduce intake but suffer withdrawal symptoms, and become preoccupied with substance use until they binge again.

The Behavioral Model Of Addiction

The behavioral model of addiction is an additional model used to understand how addiction works and the mechanisms that affect long-term brain chemistry.

This model asserts that drug use and alcohol consumption trigger a response in the brain through the reward circuit, often by affecting dopamine levels as well as other neurotransmitters.

Increased levels of these neurotransmitters can cause pleasant sensations and feelings of euphoria, which can result in continued substance use, leading to a drug or alcohol use disorder.

An individual in recovery from addiction can experience a disruption of the reward circuit, which can cause intense cravings and unpleasant mental health effects when someone ceases use.

The Effect Of Substance Use On Mental Health

Substance use can contribute to serious mental illness by changing the brain’s structure and function over time.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the structural and biochemical effects of substance use because human brains continue to develop until the age of 25.

However, both adults and adolescents can be affected, as the effects of drugs and alcohol can increase the risk of mental health conditions or exacerbate existing symptoms.

Substance abuse can exacerbate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other mental health disorders that are primarily genetic or situational.

Substance abuse can also cause the biochemical conditions that result in anxiety disorders and depression. Someone who already has one of these disorders will experience worsening symptoms.

In both cases, it is not uncommon for people to use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Unfortunately, symptom relief is short-lived and substance use can significantly increase your mental health issues.

Substance Use Disorders And Co-Occurring Mental Illness

Mental health and substance-related disorders often co-occur. More than one in four adults living with serious mental illness also have substance use disorders.

Substance use problems occur more often with specific mental health disorders, including:

Someone with comorbid mental health and substance use issues must receive treatment for both conditions to have the best chance of recovery and symptom management.

Effective treatment for both mental health issues and substance use disorders may include medication, behavioral therapies, rehabilitation, and other mental health services.

Learn About Dual Diagnosis Treatment At Bedrock

If you or a loved one are seeking dual diagnosis treatment for mental health and substance use problems, we can help.

Contact Bedrock Recovery Center to learn about how we treat co-occurring disorders.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction/
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction/
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/why-there-comorbidity-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illnesses#:~:text=3.,%2C%20or%20impulse-control%20disorders./
  4. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health/
  5. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health#:~:text=Studies%20found%20that%20people%20with,the%20symptoms%20worse%20over%20time./
  6. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28252892/
  7. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1389786/
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/mental-health/mental-health-substance-use-co-occurring-disorders/
  9. Taylor & Francis Online https://doi.org/10.1081/JA-200030707/
  10. The New England Journal of Medicine https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1511480/
  11. Yale Medicine https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/how-an-addicted-brain-works/

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: February 19, 2024

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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