A toy brain sits on a pile of pills - How Alcohol & Drug Misuse Affects Mental Health

Many people misuse alcohol or drugs because of poor mental health. They have low self-esteem, an inability to cope with stress, or a lack of contentment with life. You don’t have to have a mental illness to have an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol.

If you do have a mental disorder, substance abuse will make it worse.

How Does Alcohol & Drug Abuse Affect Mental Health?

Outside of a doctor’s prescription, using drugs to fight emptiness or stress tends to leave you worse off. Drug abuse changes your brain structure, realigns your priorities, and damages the way you see yourself.

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Changes Your Brain

Your brain changes with alcohol and drug use, becoming less effective at stress management and mood regulation.

A healthy brain produces neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that allow nerves to communicate) like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters keep your emotions in balance and encourage positive behavior.

When you use drugs to increase brain chemicals, your brain adapts by not producing them naturally. If you try to stop misusing drugs, you’ll likely feel worse than before you started. Withdrawal symptoms lead many people back to substance misuse.

Every drug of abuse increases dopamine, which rewards drug-taking behavior. Even though drug abuse is bad for you, your brain craves more. Each time you take drugs, it strengthens the connection that says drugs make you feel good and you should keep using them.

Eventually (before you know it), you’ll become addicted.

Addiction is a mental health disorder in which you lose control over substance abuse. Even if your health is deteriorating or your life is falling apart, addiction keeps you from getting sober.

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Realigns Your Priorities

Drug abuse makes you depend on alcohol or drugs to feel good, concentrate, or relax. It will become more and more important that you take drugs to function. Seeking, taking, and recovering from drugs may start to come before anything else.

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Damages Your Self-Esteem

Alcohol or drugs can help you worry less about what people think of you. They can boost your confidence and lower your social discomfort. At first.

Substance abuse changes how you see yourself. It often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. You know what you’re doing is unhealthy, but it becomes harder to stop. You feel bad that you keep doing it, which makes you ashamed and causes more drug or alcohol abuse.

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Increases Side Effects

If you take a prescription medication outside of prescription guidelines, you’re more likely to have adverse side effects. Taking it when you shouldn’t or taking more than you should increases the amount of drugs in your body, which raises the risk of a negative reaction.

Commonly misused prescription drugs include opioid painkillers like Norco (hydrocodone) and ADHD stimulants like Adderall (amphetamine).

Mental health side effects that can result from drug misuse are:

  • insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • increased anxiety
  • worsened depression
  • thoughts of self-harm

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Has Lasting Psychological Effects

Drug and alcohol misuse makes your brain weak. It changes the way you think and how you live your life. The more you do it, the greater effect it has on how your brain functions.

Lasting psychological effects of drug abuse include:

  • memory loss
  • learning problems
  • difficulty focusing
  • lack of awareness
  • poor decision-making

These effects may linger for weeks or months even if you stop substance abuse. Some people continue to have cravings after years of abstaining from drugs or alcohol.

Young people who begin abusing recreational drugs or alcohol as adolescents have an increased risk of lasting negative effects. Their brains are still forming. A substance abuse problem can become a permanent part of their life.

Substance Abuse & Mental Illness

Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand. One can cause the other and they make each other worse. Over 25 percent of people with a serious mental health condition also have a substance use disorder (SUD).

Mental Health Disorders Can Lead To Substance Abuse

Some people misuse drugs or alcohol to self-medicate an untreated mental disorder. Drugs can lessen the symptoms and make you feel normal for a while. Using drugs to feel better can quickly become a habit that grows into addiction.

The most common mental health problems that lead to substance abuse include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • bipolar disorder
  • borderline personality disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • schizophrenia

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Worsen Mental Illness

Drug and alcohol use may temporarily relieve symptoms of mental health problems, but the symptoms are usually worse when the drugs wear off.

Alcohol and drug abuse worsen mental illness by causing:

  • a shortage of healthy brain chemicals
  • hormonal imbalance
  • abnormal brain activity
  • poor decision making
  • mood swings
  • shame and guilt, which increase depression and anxiety

Mental illness occurs because your brain isn’t working as it should. Substance abuse doesn’t fix the problem, it makes the brain even more dysfunctional.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Addiction & Co-Occurring Disorders

If you’re struggling with addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder, you need dual diagnosis treatment. An addiction treatment program that doesn’t address mental illness or mental health therapy that doesn’t treat addiction is ineffective.

Treatment dropout and relapse rates are high among people who have unresolved mental health issues. Either their psychological condition leads them back to substance abuse or drug addiction causes mental health symptoms to resurface.

Dual diagnosis treatment is a recovery program that deals with the root of addiction while treating your co-occurring mental health disorder. This approach encourages whole-person healing and nurtures your brain to lasting recovery.

Speak with a treatment specialist at Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today to learn more about drug use and mental health.  

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Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

Published on

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This page does not provide medical advice.