Unfortunately, it is all too common for people suffering from mental illness to also suffer from substance abuse, making treatment that much more complex. Dual diagnosis is one of the terms used to describe co-occurring disorders that manifest in the same person often at the same time.

According the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), of those suffering from mental illness, about one-third of them also struggle with substance abuse. The flip side of that indicates that around half of drug abusers and one-third of alcohol abusers also suffer from mental illness. These numbers may actually be much higher as many cases of each disorder go unreported. It can also be difficult to ascertain which comes first, the mental illness or the substance abuse.

physical consequences

Mental Illness Can Lead to Substance Abuse

People suffering from many different mental disorders with varying degrees of severity may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate or to escape the daily struggles their mental illness brings them. More severe symptoms may actually increase the likelihood of someone turning to illicit substances like drugs or alcohol, as well. NAMI reports that about half of those with severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, for example, abuse substances also.

Substance Abuse May Trigger Mental Illness Symptoms

Conversely, substance abuse can exacerbate underlying mental health disorders and increase symptoms. While substance abuse doesn’t exactly cause a mental health disorder, it can bring one to the surface, increase psychotic episodes, and heighten already existing symptoms. For example, someone who abuses alcohol but also has an undiagnosed anxiety disorder may become further depressed and even suicidal when using alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse can further increase anxiety and other mental illness symptoms, increasing the urge to continue abusing substances as they may dull or numb the feelings while intoxicated or high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that those who abuse drugs are more than twice as likely to also suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder.

Co-occurring Risk Factors

One of the other notions to consider is that those who suffer from mental illness as well as those prone to substance abuse may actually have some of the same underlying risk factors. Some of these factors include:

The debate rages on about nature versus nurture when it comes to substance abusers and certain mental illnesses, with most scientists today agreeing that both play a role. It may be that these disorders so often co-occur since many of the same factors can lead to each.


Whether substance abuse may have led to a manifestation of a mental illness or vice versa, getting the right treatment is important. Most experts agree that treating both disorders simultaneously using an integrated treatment model is the most effective method.

Black Bear Lodge is a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment center specializing in offering the highest level of care for co-occurring disorders. Our highly trained staff members at our tranquil location work to develop a personal and unique plan for each patient, to help combat the intense symptoms of mental illness, and to discover the roots of addiction. Black Bear Lodge strives to treat each person as a whole and individual entity and teaches the tools necessary for a fulfilling life. Call us at 706-914-2327 for more information.