This article was written by a guest contributor to the psychology healthcare newsletter, Jennifer McGregor.  Jennifer is a medial student and contributor to, a new website that provides resources for medical students and the public interested in progressive healthcare resources. 

People who struggle with mental illness are much more likely to experience an addiction than those without mental illness. Similarly, people with an addiction are more likely to develop either the symptoms of a mental illness or a fully established mental illness. Coping when you are handling both a mental illness and addiction is never easy and can make your situation worse. If this describes your situation, there are some things to know about the connection between these conditions and how you can start recovering.

What Connects Mental Illness and Addiction?

There are a few reasons that mental illness and addictions tend to co-occur. One of the most common problems is self-medication. People with untreated illnesses often seek out their own methods for treating their symptoms. Most often, that means substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can appear to suppress a number of symptoms for a short period of time but actually make them worse in the long run. This steady worsening of symptoms leads to further substance abuse.

Individuals handling addiction, on the other hand, may experience the symptoms of a mental illness as they continue to abuse the substance. Some people may develop a diagnosed illness if the abuse goes on for an extended period.

What Can I Do to Start Recovering?

If you have an addiction and a mental illness, the most critical thing you should do is seek out treatment. A proper treatment plan with a trained professional should cover both the addiction and the mental illness. Treating only one of the two will lead you back to square one, especially because the two issues are intertwined.

There are many forms of therapy and treatment for people with mental illness and addiction. Some are more traditional with one-to-one time with a therapist or group therapy, while others incorporate activities such as exercise, meditation, or art therapy. If cost is a concern, free online sessions can be a good place to get started on your road to recovery and well-being.

Is There Anything Else I Can Do to Make My Recovery More Successful?

There are a number of things you can do to make your daily life easier and help yourself recover faster. It is important to keep in mind, however, that no lifestyle change will replace the help of a trained therapist. However, positive lifestyle changes certainly can make you feel more in control of your recovery as well as increase the speed of your recovery.

Try incorporating exercise into your daily routine. The endorphins released by regular exercise are excellent for battling symptoms of mental illness and reducing the perceived need for substance abuse because physical activity releases endorphins that lift your mood naturally. Modifying your diet is another great way to manage your symptoms. A well-rounded diet fills the nutritional gaps that can contribute to mental illness. Meditation is another ideal tool for coping with mental illness and addiction. Teaching yourself better mental control also has a variety of benefits including mental illness management and general coping skills.

Learning to live with both a mental illness and an addiction is not easy and requires the help of a professional in most cases. While you can make changes in your life to improve your ability to overcome these mental challenges, it is important that you seek treatment. However, starting with daily exercise and a healthy diet is a good place to begin. Start slowly, make what changes you can, and eventually, you will overcome addiction and cope with mental illness in healthy ways.

Jennifer McGregor

Jennifer also provided the following resources for people wanting to have quality healthcare information:

How Mental Illness and Addiction Influence Each Other

Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Addiction: Identifying and Treating Your Dual Diagnosis

After the Battle: 7 Health Problems Facing Veterans

Teen Drug Abuse: The Facts and Statistics

12 Ways to Help a Teen Handle the Emotional Challenges of Moving

The Best Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Teenage Drinking

Reaching Out for Support When You Have a Mental Illness

One thought on “Addiction and Mental Illness: The Connection, and Coping Resources

  • April 25, 2019 at 1:55 am

    There are plenty of self-help steps you can take to address your substance abuse and mental health issues, such as by managing your stress levels, knowing your triggers, and having an action plan.


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