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is substance abuse a mental disorder?

Is Substance Abuse a Mental Disorder?

Too many people still see a diagnosis of substance use disorder as a personal failing. Despite decades of research, it still appears that the average person views addiction as something they did to themselves. In reality, substance use disorder has many of the same characteristics as other recognized mental illnesses. This discovery has led to both the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) classifying substance use disorder (SUD) as a type of psychiatric illness.

Is Substance Abuse a Mental Disorder?

Yes, addiction is a mental illness. A mental illness is a health condition that causes changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior. For a condition to receive this label, it must cause distress or discomfort to the patient necessitating professional treatment.

Substance use disorder has some unique symptoms that make it more of an illness than a moral failure. The DSM-5-TR has isolated several key criteria for addiction:

  • Wanting to stop using, or trying to cut down, but being unable to do so
  • Using the substance longer, or in larger amounts, than originally planned
  • Organizing one’s life around getting, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Using even when work, school, or relationships begin to suffer
  • Using despite awareness that you are in physical, psychological, or emotional danger from continued use

The inability to stop even when you want to and try to stop, and the awareness of addiction and harm, are things that categorize addiction as a mental illness.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health 

Doctors and psychiatrists have known for some time that substance abuse and mental illness go hand in hand. Dual diagnoses have always been part of the substance abuse/mental health treatment program.

Common mental illnesses that occur in tandem with substance abuse include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that the reason for these dual diagnoses, or comorbidities, may be complex and interrelated.

Common risk factors, such as environment, genetic predisposition, or early trauma, may lead to both mental illness and substance abuse.

Mental illness may lead to substance abuse and addiction as a form of self-medication. For instance, someone with schizophrenia may find a certain narcotic eases symptoms of their illness but then develop a tolerance for the drug, leading to a diagnosable substance use disorder.

Substance abuse may trigger some types of mental illness. Conversely, some drugs may cause latent mental illnesses to express themselves in individuals who are uniquely vulnerable. These factors can even combine. Someone with a genetic predisposition and early trauma could have a low-level mental illness and become exposed to a drug that exacerbates their existing illness.

Start Healing from Addiction and Mental Illness

No matter which came first, doctors and clinicians agree that substance abuse and mental illness need to be treated together if they exist together. Treating one without treating the other is like replacing worn brake pads when the rotors are bad. You’ll be back at the repair shop in a week.

At Vista Taos Renewal Center, we look for the underlying cause of the illness and treat both the body and the mind, the addiction and the illness. We understand that both causes of illness need to be treated before you can recover and return to a healthy life.

When you are ready to begin healing or just need to talk to someone, contact us. We are here for you.

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