Which Mental Health Disorders Increase Vulnerability to Addiction?

Woman experiencing distress from a mental disorder

Dane O'Leary July 10, 2020

Do specific mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or PTSD make a person more susceptible to addiction? This is a question many addicts, their loved ones, and mental health professionals ask. 

Studies aimed at deepening our understanding of the link between specific mental disorders and an increased vulnerability to addiction are still ongoing but in this article, we discuss some of the researched-backed theories on this topic.

So, let’s look at what a mental disorder is, which disorders can predispose addiction, and explore how this translates to addiction vulnerability. 

What Is a Mental Health Disorder?

A mental health disorder is a health condition involving changes in a person’s emotions, thinking, or behavior. Sometimes also referred to as emotional disorders, these types of illnesses are linked to feelings of distress and difficulties functioning in family, work, or social settings. 

Depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD are some examples of mental disorders. Addiction is also considered a mental health disorder, referred to as substance use disorder (or SUD) in clinical terms. 

Mental Disorders That Can Increase Addiction Susceptibility

Statistics show a significant connection between addiction and emotional disorders as nearly 50% of substance use disorder diagnoses are comorbid. This means that one out of every two people with a substance use disorder also suffers from at least one other mental disorder as well. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction tends to co-occur frequently with these mental health disorders:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial and borderline personality disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Co-occurring addiction doesn’t always have a clear-cut cause that’s rooted in one of the mental disorders listed above. However, the high rate of comorbid addiction demonstrates that these specific mental disorders do play a role in predisposing addiction. 

Man lying in bed

How Mental Disorders Predispose Addiction

How exactly does an illness like depression or schizophrenia open a person up to addiction? This is an area of mental health we’re still learning about, and also depend on each condition’s unique pathology, but there seem to be two main contributory factors. Firstly, changes in the brain, and secondly, tendencies for self-medicating behavior. 

Changes in the Brain

Research shows mental illness causes changes in a person’s brain activity and that this contributes to addiction vulnerability. These neurological changes elevate the rewarding effects experienced during drug use while diminishing awareness of its negative consequences. 

In simpler terms, an emotional disorder can make a person experience a drug high more intensely and at the same time cloud their judgment about the detrimental effects of addiction. ADHD research supports this idea with neuroimaging revealing the changes in brain activity linked to ADHD, are the same brain circuits involved in drug cravings

This demonstrates how a mentally ill person, when exposed to substance use, is far more likely to become addicted than a person in good mental health.

This doesn’t imply every person battling mental illness will form a drug or alcohol addiction, or that a mental disorder causes addiction. Rather, it demonstrates how a mentally ill person, when exposed to substance use, is far more likely to become addicted than a person in good mental health.  

Self-Medicating Behavior

Self-medicating behavior also highlights how poor mental health makes a person prone to addiction. People suffering from untreated disorders often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to find relief from the symptoms of mental health issues. 

Using drugs can dull the discomforts of emotional disorder symptoms. For example, someone who is battling bipolar disorder might seek relief from a depressive mood by using cocaine. For a short while, it may seem as if this stimulant is the answer to feeling better but in the long run, it leads to addiction. 

In cases where a mental disorder is being treated, self-medicating tendencies are often rooted in diminishing side-effects of antipsychotic medications. Irrespective of the reason why people resort to self-medicating, it’s a type of behavior that increases their vulnerability to addiction and ends up exacerbating the primary problem. 

Fortunately, addiction as well as most mental health disorders can be successfully treated. 

Find Help for Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders 

At Silicon Beach Treatment Center, we embody an ethos of integrated treatment. We provide holistic mental health programs that offer clients treatment options targeting addiction and comorbid disorders.  

Need information about our Silicon Beach rehab programs? Are you looking for LA sober living options? Get in touch with us to find out more. 

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