Mental illness is one of the biggest factors in whether someone will develop a substance use disorder. Studies show that about half of people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health issue, and some estimates are even higher. The connections between mental illness and substance use are complex. Often, the mental health issue comes first, and the substance use issue begins as self-medication. However, substance use can also cause mental health issues or make existing mental health issues worse. In some cases, both substance use issues and mental health issues may step from a common cause. It’s crucial that anyone seeking help for substance abuse is also screened for a co-occurring mental health issue. If there is a co-occurring issue, it must be treated concurrently for addiction recovery to be successful. That means finding a treatment program with the facilities and staff to address a dual diagnosis.

At Fort Behavioral Health, our mental health and addiction treatment programs provide comprehensive care that people may need to regain control of their lives. If you or a loved one may benefit from this type of dual diagnosis treatment, reach out to our team today by calling 844.332.1807 or completing our online form. To learn more about the connection between mental health and addiction, it is important to know about the most common mental health issues associated with addiction.

Major Depression

Major depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the US, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the past year, more than seven percent of American adults and more than 13 percent of adolescents between 12 and 17 experienced an episode of major depression. Unfortunately, many people with depression don’t receive treatment or even a diagnosis. About 35 percent of adults and 60 percent of adolescents never receive treatment for their depression.

Not only is depression common, but rates of addiction are much higher among people with depression. One study found that among people with major depression, 16.5 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug use disorder. By comparison, only about 10 percent of the general public will have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.

Bipolar Disorder

Although bipolar disorder is considered a depressive disorder, it deserves special mention because it is such a huge risk factor for addiction. The same study that found elevated substance use among people with depression found that people with bipolar disorder had a 56 percent chance of developing a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. This may be because people with bipolar disorder have to deal with the emotional pain of depressive episodes and with the high-risk, volatile behavior of manic episodes. Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed and it may complicate addiction treatment.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are even more common than major depression because anxiety disorders comprise a number of issues, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. All of these conditions increase your addiction risk to different degrees.

One large study found that 17.7 percent of people with substance use disorders also had an anxiety disorder and that study excluded OCD and PTSD. What’s more, research has found that anxiety disorders precede substance use disorders in about 75 percent of cases, indicating that substance use often begins as a way of self-medicating anxiety.


Although PTSD is technically an anxiety disorder, it deserves special mention because it significantly increases your risk of addiction. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event, avoiding thoughts or reminders of the event, becoming negative or pessimistic, becoming irritable or easily startled, or having trouble sleeping. Coping with these symptoms is very difficult and people with PTSD often resort to drugs or alcohol. About half of people seeking treatment for a substance use disorder meet the criteria for current PTSD and PTSD can complicate treatment as sufferers tend to experience more intense cravings and more frequent relapses.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a condition characterized by racing thoughts, restlessness, and impulsive behavior. People with ADHD have the double challenge of needing relief from their symptoms and being prone to high-risk behavior such as substance use. One study found that about 15 percent of adults with ADHD had some kind of substance use issue and that 70 percent of those people used drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of ADHD, including low mood, insomnia, and racing thoughts.

Roughly four percent of children and adults have ADHD, and the condition is often underdiagnosed in girls and women. The good news is that controlling ADHD with medication makes recovery from addiction much easier.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a class of disorders based on having a rigid or distorted way of seeing the world. Personality disorders massively increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder. Studies have found that people with personality disorders may have a lifetime risk of addiction as high as 72 percent.

Borderline personality disorder is among the most common and also has the second-highest risk of addiction. The personality disorder with the highest risk of addiction is antisocial personality disorder but people with that condition rarely seek treatment and rarely finish treatment when they do seek it. Although personality disorders are complex and challenging, dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, has been shown to be an effective method of treating borderline personality disorders and other challenging conditions including addiction.

Explore the Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction at Fort Behavioral Health

At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe, nurturing, and healing space for men and women to find recovery from the multifaceted disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face their challenges, discover the root of their problems, and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders, call us today at 844.332.1807 or contact us through our admissions page.


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