Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy How Does Mental Health Play a Role in Addiction?

How Does Mental Health Play a Role in Addiction?

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Research indicates a correlation between addiction and mental health. It is estimated that individuals diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders are twice as likely to suffer from substance use disorders. This holds true for those with antisocial and conduct disorders as well. Similarly, individuals diagnosed with drug use disorders are twice as likely to suffer from mental health conditions. Drug addictions and mental health issues can be comprehensively addressed with the assistance of drug rehab in California, facilitating individuals’ complete recovery from drugs.

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders develop within the brain, affecting similar aspects of brain chemistry. They have overlapping effects on psychology and cognition as well. It’s staggering that more than 15 million adults in the US are contending with both substance addiction and mental health disorders. Regular alcohol consumption can introduce further challenges, such as financial difficulties. Along with these, the person may also face significant health consequences, adding to the complexity of their situation.

How is addiction related to brain chemistry?

Addiction occurs after prolonged, repeated use of drugs and alcohol consumption. Drugs and alcohol are chemicals. Substances taken in by the body eventually make their way to the brain, where they may influence the transmission, reception, and processing of information between nerve cells. It then happens with immediate use. With long usage, then the drugs and alcohol make more lasting changes in the brain. They are having wire brain circuits and then cause changes in neurons, it creating dependency. Many repeating drug users will be for depending on the drug to function. It will help for adjusting the signals that occur within the brain though. The high end rehab will help for understanding that it is harmful for life. 

The brain is wired to repeat behavior that we need to survive, all activities like eating or that makes us feel good in life. The brain is having a limbic system and specifically a reward circuit, that regulates the emotional response to the activities and then it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine to create a sense of happiness and fulfillment. 

Science shows the many drugs that activate the brain’s reward circuit and then trigger heightened surges of dopamine that are more than what is naturally released. It will cause euphoric effects or the “high” that drug gives happiness and it triggers our brain to want to repeat the drug. When a person continues to use drugs and loses control over the ability to make sound decisions regarding drug usage, it indicates addiction. Addiction happens when a person continues to use the drugs and then seeks them compulsively, despite the negative problems of substance use the cause in life though.

Teens are at risk

Addiction doesn’t just affect brain chemistry; it alters the very structure of the brain. Brain imaging studies reveal that repeated drug use can disrupt the functionality of the brain’s frontal cortex, which regulates cognitive activities such as decision-making, response inhibition, impulse control, planning, and memory.

Individuals battling drug addiction often experience disruptions in their lives and behaviors due to the disease. Impaired judgement, decision-making difficulties, and inability to regulate impulses contribute to their overall lack of self-control. Their priority becomes obtaining and using the substance, often at the expense of other aspects of their lives.

Which areas of the brain are affected by addiction and mental illness?

  • The brain stem. The brain stem regulates essential bodily functions required for survival, such as breathing, blood circulation, and digestion. It connects the brain to the spinal cord, allowing the brain to control these functions. Drugs that impact the brain stem can, particularly in cases of overdose, disrupt these life-sustaining functions.
  • The limbic system. The limbic system controls emotional responses to activities. It facilitates the release of dopamine during pleasurable activities such as eating, motivating us to repeat the behaviour. When drugs affect the limbic system, the brain begins to crave and depend on these substances.
  • The prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is involved in thinking, planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and impulse control. Substance use and mental health disorders can impair the functioning of this area, leading to poor decision-making, impulsivity, and heightened risk-taking behaviors.
  • The hippocampus. The hippocampus is primarily responsible for memory formation and learning. Chronic substance use and certain mental health disorders can damage the hippocampus, leading to difficulties in forming new memories and learning new information.
  • The amygdala. The amygdala is the brain’s center for emotional processing and fear responses. It can be affected by substance use and mental health disorders, leading to heightened stress and anxiety levels, changes in emotional responses, and an increased likelihood of experiencing fear and paranoia.

Final thopughts

The intersection of addiction and mental health is both complex and profound, affecting numerous areas of the brain and, consequently, a person’s behaviour. It’s clear that these disorders not only alter an individual’s neurochemistry but also disrupt the structure of their brain, often leading to long-term cognitive and emotional complications. The prevalence of these co-occurring disorders emphasizes the need for comprehensive treatment strategies.

High-end rehab centers, such as those located in California, can provide crucial support to individuals on their journey to recovery. These centers are equipped to address both the mental health disorders and the substance use disorders, aiming to mend the damage caused to the brain and restore individuals to their best health.

Further research and continued conversation on this subject will continue to improve our understanding, reduce stigma, and improve treatment outcomes for those affected by addiction and mental health disorders.


Ellen Diamond , a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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