People with alcohol use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions typically have similar risk factors that can trigger either condition. Risk factors for alcohol and mental health disorders include:

  • Genetic disposition
  • Family history
  • Current environment

Common Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders With Alcohol Abuse

Determining which disorder occurred first (that is, alcohol use or a mental health disorder) can be a challenge.

Why Alcohol Abuse Can Lead to a Mental Health Disorder: An alcohol addiction may trigger a mental health disorder since it is a depressant that changes the brain’s chemistry and can often cause an underlying depression disorder to emerge.

Why a Mental Health Disorder Can Lead to Alcohol Abuse: Conversely, someone with a mental health disorder may use alcohol to self-medicate, resulting in an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders

About 20 percent of people living with anxiety also have a substance use disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Because alcohol is a depressant, people with anxiety disorders may use it to relax and self-medicate instead of taking medications prescribed by a physician.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), heavy drinking over an extended period can cause anxiety to develop or emerge. Anxiety is also one of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol and Process Disorders

Process disorders also referred to as behavioral addictions can include addictions to gambling, work, internet, sex, and porn. Researchers found that people with process disorders typically have an increased risk of substance addiction compared to 10 percent of the general population. Approximately 64 percent of people with sex addiction also have a co-occurring drug or alcohol use disorder and nearly 38 percent of people living with internet addiction have a substance use disorder.

Alcohol and Depression

There is a strong relationship between alcohol and depression. It is estimated that approximately one-third of people living with alcohol addiction also have depression, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of depression and heavy drinking can hinder the efficacy of antidepressants medications. People with co-occurring alcohol use and depression disorders have an increased risk of suicidal ideations and suicide.

Relationship Between Mental Health and Alcohol Abuse

People with a mental health condition may use alcohol to relax the body and relieve stress, but the side effects of alcohol can be detrimental to brain chemistry. There is a strong relationship between mental health and alcohol abuse.

People who drink excessively have more frequent and severe occurrences of symptoms and are more likely to contemplate suicide. Heavy alcohol use can also hinder the efficacy of prescribed medications for mental health disorders.

Statistics of Mental Health Issues With Co-Occurring Alcohol Abuse

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NASDUH), 7.9 million Americans have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. While co-occurring disorder studies have focused less on youth, research has found that adolescents have a higher rate of co-occurring mental health disorders. An evaluation of drug treatments for adolescents found that 60 percent of adolescents who were in treatment for substance use disorders also met diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions.

Comorbid Mental Health and Alcohol Treatment

Getting treatment for substance use and mental health disorders is the first step to recovery. It is crucial to get treatment for both disorders at the same time. If someone treats one of their disorders and not the other, the chances increase for either one worsening or returning.

Some of the reasons for treating co-occurring disorders simultaneously include:

  • Treatment plans are often designed to overcome the adverse side effects of mental health disorders, like a reduced attention span, a low level of motivation, or a fear of socializing.
  • Medication therapy is more effective when a patient’s medication plan addresses their mental health disorder as well as their substance abuse disorder.
  • Group therapy for people living with co-occurring disorders offers a stronger support network.
  • Treating drug addiction and a mental health condition simultaneously helps people at treatment facilities address their relapse triggers like depression, mood swings or panic attacks.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals can design an individualized treatment plan to address your specific needs. To learn more about which treatment programs could work for you, speak with a representative

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.