Richa Madaan

Richa Madaan

How Substance Abuse Affects Mental Health: The Complete Guide

  Mar 30, 2024
Reviewed by Ayushi Jain

Substance abuse is a pervasive issue with far-reaching consequences. Not only is it linked to a range of medical problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and cancer, but it can also have serious negative effects on mental health

However, unfortunately, the connection between substance abuse and mental illness often goes unrecognized or unacknowledged by people who underestimate the importance of comprehensive care, which includes both mental and physical treatments.

Hence, in this blog post, we’ll thoroughly explore how substance abuse impacts mental health so you can know how to make informed decisions about your well-being.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

The intertwining relationship between substance abuse and mental health is complex, multifaceted, and often misunderstood.

Often, individuals struggling with mental health issues turn to a variety of substances as a way of self-medicating and coping with their symptoms.  These substances may include—

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine 
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis
  • Synthetic drugs (e.g., synthetic cannabinoids)
  • New Psychoactive Substances (e.g., NPS, PlantFood, Dimethocaine, Bath salts, Mdat and Eric 3)
  • Performance-enhancing drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids)
  • Over-the-counter medications (when abused or misused)
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Illegal drugs such as Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, Fentanyl, Inhalants of Methamphetamine, Hallucinogens, MDMA (Ecstasy), LSD, PCP, Ketamine.
illegal drug usage among college students in the United States of America

This graph shows the illegal drug usage among college students in the United States of America. 

However, this coping mechanism can also exacerbate concerns, leading to a vicious cycle of addiction and worsening conditions over time. 

It is paramount that those with co-occurring disorders receive comprehensive and integrated treatment that addresses both issues simultaneously. 

By doing so, individuals can begin to heal and reclaim their lives, breaking the cycle of addiction and improving their outcomes. From alcohol detox to therapy like Ketamine, there are various treatment options available that can help individuals tackle both concerns. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with issues, it is notable to seek assistance from a qualified professional who can provide personalized treatment plans tailored to individual needs and circumstances. 

Remember, addressing both aspects of a person’s well-being are vital for long-term recovery and overall well-being.

How Substance Abuse Affects the Brain?

How Substance Abuse Affects the Brain

Substance abuse is a serious problem that can have devastating consequences on an individual’s health and well-being. When a person consumes drugs or alcohol, the substance enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. 

Once in the brain, these substances interact with the neurons, altering brain chemistry and affecting the way the brain functions. 

Over time, this misuse can lead to a range of negative effects on memory, attention, and decision-making capabilities. To be specific, the long-term effects of substance abuse may be one or more of the following—

  • Dependency on drugs, needing more for the same effect.
  • Mood swings.
  • Negative outlook towards life.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Relationship troubles.
  • Psychosis episodes.
  • High blood pressure and stroke risks.
  • Liver and pancreas issues.
  • Increased cancer risk.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Trouble with orgasms.
  • Fertility problems.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, it can make you feel sick, cold, sweaty, or shaky when you stop taking the substance.

So, it’s noteworthy that individuals understand the detrimental impact that Substance abuse can have on the brain and seek help if they or someone they know is struggling with addiction.

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Mental Health Disorders

Substance abuse and mental disorders are two issues that are often intertwined, making accurate diagnosis and treatment more complex. The former can trigger or intensify symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and psychosis, or vice versa.

Researchers have found that people who struggle with the habit of substance abuse are significantly more likely to also suffer from a mental health condition. This connection is incredibly consequential to address in treatment, as it’s often difficult to determine which issue came first. 

Effective treatment for these co-occurring disorders regularly involves a multidisciplinary approach, including therapy and medication management. It’s required for those suffering from both conditions to seek treatment and support.

Ways to Overcome Substance Abuse and Improve Mental Health 

Struggling with drug misuse can quickly take a toll on one’s mental well-being. However, there are various resources and strategies available for those seeking to avoid addiction and improve their overall mental health. 

Overcome Substance Abuse and Improve Mental Health

So, despite the path to recovery may have obstacles, individuals can explore these ways to overcome—

  • Seek Professional Help: Therapy or counselling can serve as a safe and supportive space to work through underlying issues that may be contributing to drug misuse.
  • Build A Strong Support Network: Creating a strong support system of friends and family can encourage individuals and help them to stay responsible for their actions.
  • Participate In Support Groups: Participating in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer support from others who understand and help to stay on track for recovery.
  • Maintain Healthy Habits: Engaging in physical activity such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep can also help in managing stress and promoting positive results. 
  • Employ Stress-Reduction Techniques: Learning and practicing stress relieving techniques such as meditation or mindfulness helps to manage stress and negative emotions without relying on substance use.
  • Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Using healthy coping strategies, such as exercise, hobbies, and relaxation techniques can make you feel better and focused to stay healthy, instead of turning to drugs or alcohol for comfort.

Using a combination of these approaches helps improve your health and makes you feel better overall. However, it’s necessary to conduct thorough research to find strategies or resources that are the right fit for your individual needs. 

How to Help Someone Struggling with Substance Abuse and Mental Health? 

If you know someone who is struggling with issues, it can be challenging to know how to assist. However, offering support and understanding is decisive in helping them seek the treatment they require. 

It’s vital not to judge or criticize their situation, but instead offer empathy and encouragement. No wonder, encouraging them to seek professional assistance and offering to support them in their journey can make a significant difference. 

Remember, recovery is a process, and providing ongoing support for someone struggling with substance abuse and mental health is necessary. By educating yourself on these topics and being there for your loved one, you can play a vital role in their recovery journey. 

Most notably, never underestimate the power of listening and showing compassion. This can have a significant impact on someone’s well-being and recovery. 

Substance abuse and disorders are two major issues that must be addressed together in order to work toward healing. By understanding the relationship between substance abuse and mental health, we gain insight into how addictions manifest and how to take proactive steps toward conquering them. 

Through developing healthy coping mechanisms, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, seeking support from medical professionals, rehab or counseling services, considering medications if needed, and relying on supportive friends and family for assistance—individuals can begin their journey of recovery for a more positive lifestyle.

Though cases differ from person to person, with the right support and guidance, it is possible for someone to experience the peace of mind that comes with living substance-free.

Wrapping Up

Engaging in substance abuse poses significant risks for individuals of all backgrounds. It is costing over $275 billion in healthcare expenses, lost productivity, crime, and other social burdens, while leading to over 130,000 deaths annually.

So, if you find yourself struggling with a substance use disorder that has turned into an addiction, keep in mind that it has many negative effects on your life, including damage to your career, relationships, finances, and health. Over time, these effects of addiction can make you less stable emotionally and psychologically, and possibly even result in a mental health disorder.

While seeking help for substance abuse and mental health issues can be overwhelming and scary, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are numerous resources available, from therapy and counselling to support groups and hotlines to offer support and guidance in navigating your journey to recovery.

Keep in mind that reaching out for assistance is a courageous step in the right direction toward healing and living a healthier, happier life.


Ans: Substance use disorder (SUD) is when someone can’t stop using a substance even though it causes problems. People with SUD are really focused on using substances like alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, which makes it hard for them to do normal activities.

Ans: Acute drug use temporarily boosts dopamine activity, whereas chronic drug use causes a significant and lasting drop in dopamine levels. This decrease persists even after extended detox, affecting frontal brain areas.

Ans: Some common addiction groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) and SMART Recovery.

Ans: Misuse refers to using a drug in a way other than its prescribed or intended purpose, whereas abuse involves using a drug in a manner that leads to negative consequences, such as health problems or impaired functioning.

Ans: Drugs are sometimes used to help people feel better when they’re stressed, anxious, or upset. Basically, it gives them a temporary relief or escape from negative emotions or situations. However, depending on drugs to handle stress can make you need them all the time.

Ans: Healthy coping skills include:

  • Pausing before reacting impulsively.
  • Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
  • Staying busy with activities.
  • Maintaining exercise and nutrition.
  • Connecting with others for support.

Ans: Coping strategies help people deal with stress and triggers in a way that decreases the chances of them returning to substance use. They offer healthier options for handling difficult situations, which can prevent relapse.