What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder?

What is the relationship between mental illness and substance use disorder? Uncover overlapping symptoms, societal stigma, and paths to holistic recovery.

How Black Horse Health Can Provide Comprehensive Dual Diagnosis Treatment

At Black Horse Health, we understand how devastating the side effects of both substance use and mental health disorders can be. We also understand how mental health and addiction often go hand-in-hand – with approximately half of all individuals struggling with severe mental health disorders also struggling with substance abuse – and we know that treatment should take that into account.
Our team of skilled and compassionate specialists have over 100 years of combined experience, and we are committed to helping you or your loved one lead a fulfilling life by helping you recover from the root of both diagnoses simultaneously — by addressing more than just the overarching symptoms.
With comprehensive wellness services including dual diagnosis treatment, holistic therapies like yoga and meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, we will create a path to recovery that best meets your unique set of symptoms.

Harness the Power of Healing With Black Horse Health

Learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment programs, other treatment opportunities, and how our Black Horse Health team of specialists can help you heal in this comprehensive article.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for more information or to begin your path to wellness today.
what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use

What Is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?

In today’s world, there is more discussion than ever surrounding mental illness and substance use. As awareness grows, so does our understanding of how deeply intertwined these two issues can be. They often occur together. This complex relationship can be difficult to identify and treat.
Because of its complexity, this relationship should be diagnosed and treated by qualified professionals. Finding the right treatment for you can pave the way to successful recovery.
This leads us to ask, what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use? How can we help? Why is it so important for us to address this issue? This article strives to answer these questions and explore options for treatment.

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: Key Distinctions

Though mental illness and substance use are often intertwined, they have a few key distinctions. These will be detailed below.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is more than just feeling sad or stressed. It’s a broad term that covers a range of conditions affecting our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and more.1
Anyone can feel down or anxious at times, but when these feelings persist and start affecting daily life, it might be a sign of a mental illness. Mental illnesses manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can be both emotional and physical. Recognizing these signs is the first step toward healing.
Here are some common symptoms:
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
  • And changes in eating or sleeping habits

Substance Use Disorders (SUD)

Substance use disorders go beyond just occasional drug or alcohol use. It occurs when an individual’s use of substances starts to interfere with their daily life, health, and relationships.2 Substance use disorders can gradually take hold of a person’s life. Recognizing the signs early is essential.
Some common symptoms include:
  • Using more of the substance than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control use
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Craving or a strong desire to use the substance
  • Failing to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • And continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused by the substance

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: How They Intersect

Many individuals grapple with both mental health challenges and substance use disorders at the same time. For some, turning to drugs or alcohol can be a temporary escape from the pain, anxiety, or turmoil they feel inside.
However, this temporary relief can often come at a high cost. While substances might offer a momentary escape, they can intensify existing mental health symptoms.
For instance, someone with anxiety might feel more relaxed after drinking alcohol, but as its effects wear off, their anxiety might return worse than before.

Introducing New Mental Health Challenges

Substance use disorder can also introduce a host of new mental health challenges. For example, a person who didn’t previously experience depressive symptoms might start feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness after regularly using certain drugs.
Additionally, drugs like hallucinogens can lead to paranoid or delusional thinking in individuals who have no prior history of such symptoms.

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: Shared Symptoms

The symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorders often overlap. These shared signs can sometimes make it challenging to distinguish one condition from the other. This is especially true when they occur simultaneously.
It’s important to recognize and understand the common ground between mental illness and substance use to provide effective care and support.
Some shared symptoms include:
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Fatigue or decreased energy levels
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
By understanding these overlapping symptoms, individuals can better navigate the complexities of co-occurring disorders and seek appropriate interventions.3

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: Keys to Identify the Root Cause of Your Symptoms

Determining the root of your symptoms is essential to choosing the right treatment for you. Recognizing the true source of your feelings or behaviors can shape your treatment plan and increase your chances of long-term recovery.
When examining your symptoms, it’s important to consider:

Personal History

Taking a close look at your personal history can shed light on the origin of your symptoms. It can help to reflect on when these symptoms first surfaced in relation to your substance use.
Did feelings of sadness or anxiety appear before you started using a particular substance? If so, this might point to an existing mental health condition.
On the other hand, if these feelings or behaviors began only after you started using substances and tend to fade when you stop, they might be more closely tied to the substance itself. It can also be beneficial to review family history and if there’s a pattern of mental health or addiction challenges.

Medical Check-ups

Medical check-ups can also be beneficial. Certain tests or scans can show changes in your brain that might be due to substance use or a mental health disorder. Talking to qualified mental health professionals can also provide clarity.

How Healthcare Professionals Can Identify the Root Cause of Your Symptoms

Healthcare providers use a combination of methods to ensure accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
These treatment modalities include:

Comprehensive Clinical Assessment

A thorough clinical assessment is the first step. By conducting detailed interviews and using standardized assessment tools, healthcare providers can gather a holistic view of an individual’s symptoms, their onset, and their progression.

Observing Symptom Duration and Persistence

Substance-induced symptoms often diminish or resolve entirely once the substance is no longer being used. By monitoring how symptoms evolve over time, healthcare providers can determine if the symptoms are linked to an underlying mental health condition or substance use.

Cross-referencing with Medical History and Previous Diagnoses

A patient’s medical history can provide invaluable insights. By cross-referencing current symptoms with past diagnoses and medical records, healthcare providers can identify patterns or recurring issues.
This can help determine whether the symptoms are part of a longstanding mental health issue or if they are a new development potentially linked to recent substance use.

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: Risk Factors for Co-Occurring Disorders

There are specific factors that might make you more likely to experience both mental illness and substance use disorders. Understanding these factors can provide an awareness of your vulnerabilities and seek timely intervention.

Genetics and Environment

If your family has a history of mental health or substance use disorders, you might be at greater risk of developing these conditions. Traumatic events or long periods of stress in your life can also act as triggers for both conditions.

The Cycle of Self-Medication

Individuals may find themselves using substances to deal with uncomfortable mental health symptoms. This is referred to as self-medication. While it might seem like a solution, it often makes the underlying problem worse.4
To break this cycle, it is important to access effective treatment for both conditions simultaneously, rather than just treating any overarching symptoms. Treatment might include therapy, medication, and support groups.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, especially those that affect the brain or hormonal balance, can predispose you to mental health challenges. Using substances can further complicate these conditions.

Social Isolation

Feeling isolated or lacking a supportive social network can contribute to mental health issues. When a person feels isolated, they may turn to substances as a way to cope or feel connected.

Lack of Early Intervention

Not addressing mental health symptoms when they first occur can escalate the condition. Worsening symptoms without proper treatment can lead individuals to use substances as a coping mechanism.

What is the Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Use?: The Role of Stigma

Stigma plays a significant role in how society views and responds to mental illness and substance use disorder.

The Impact of Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use can have a profound impact on individuals with these conditions. Many people fear the judgment, discrimination, and misunderstanding that often come with these conditions.
As a result, many choose to suffer in silence, avoiding the crucial conversations and treatments that could aid their recovery.
Without timely intervention and support, conditions can escalate, leading to:
  1.  More severe symptoms
  2.  Isolation
  3.  Life-threatening situations
Addressing these concerns alone can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair. Stigma doesn’t just affect the individual. It impacts families, communities, and society at large. When people don’t seek help due to fear of judgment, it perpetuates myths and misunderstandings that can cause harm.

How to Make a Difference

There are many ways to break the culture of stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use. These include:


Tackling the pervasive issue of stigma requires a multi-faceted approach. At the heart of this effort is education. By spreading accurate information about mental illness and substance use disorders, we can dispel myths and enhance understanding.
Education can be provided through workshops, seminars, and awareness campaigns, amongst other methods.

Creating a Kind Culture

Creating a culture of compassion and support is vital. This means fostering environments where individuals feel safe to share their struggles without fear of judgment.
We can humanize the issue and make it easier for others to empathize and offer support by:
  • Encouraging open conversations
  • Sharing personal stories
  • And offering platforms for those affected to voice their experiences

Advocating for Change

Lastly, policymakers and influencers play a crucial role. By advocating for policies that prioritize mental health and substance use treatment, we can ensure that individuals have access to the resources and care they need.
Moreover, by showcasing positive stories of recovery and resilience, influencers can inspire hope and motivate others to seek help.

Supporting Individuals with Co-Occurring Disorders

Society plays a crucial role in supporting those struggling with both mental illness and substance use disorders. As a society, we must foster understanding and compassion for those facing these challenges.
By doing so, we can create an environment where individuals feel supported in their journey to recovery.

Treatment Programs at Black Horse Health

At Black Horse Health, we offer a range of programs tailored to address the unique needs of individuals with co-occurring disorders, including:

Therapies Offered at Black Horse Health

Within our programs, we offer various types of therapy tailored to help you with your recovery. Some of the therapies offered at Black Horse Health include:
  • Art therapy
  • Harm reduction techniques
  • Equine therapy
  • Drama therapy
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Meditation
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Trauma-focused therapies
  • Yoga
  • Experiential therapy
We utilize a combination of both evidence-based and holistic treatment opportunities to ensure a comprehensive, whole-person approach to healing.
what is the relationship between mental illness and substance use

Getting Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders at Black Horse Health

Understanding the intricate relationship between mental illness and substance misuse is more than just education. It’s about empowering yourself or your loved ones to seek help and take control of the journey to recovery.
Though individuals with these conditions often feel alone, mental illness and substance use disorder are increasingly common in our changing world. As these issues become more prevalent, more resources are allotted for diagnosis and treatment.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental illness or substance use disorder, know that you don’t have to face it alone. Our Black Horse Health recovery team is here to support you every step of the way.

Our Commitment

At Black Horse Health, we’re committed to guiding you through every step of your journey. Our holistic approach, rooted in evidence-based modalities, ensures that the individual receives comprehensive care tailored to their needs.

Don’t let stigma or uncertainty hold you back. Reach out to Black Horse Health today and take the first step toward healing, recovery, and transformation.