The Connection Between Poor Mental Health And Substance Abuse Disorders: An Analysis

One of the great struggles of addiction is that both the addict and the people around them usually think the addiction comes from basically nothing. This is a pervasive idea in American society, and it stems from a lack of education around illicit substances and how they’re abused.

If a person is really ideological, they might argue that addiction is the result of a person’s choices. And this is fair, to an extent. If a person does not make the choice to go drinking with friends, then they will be far less likely to be an alcoholic. But this notion of addicts simply being “people who drink too much” does not tell the whole story.

After all, even if addiction comes from a person’s choices, where do their choices come from?

Psychology is the field of study that seeks to answer that question. For years, psychologists have explored how addiction and mental health issues play off of each other. One can easily cause the other, and a person who is aware of neither is particularly vulnerable.

But what is “poor mental health” anyways? And how, exactly, does it relate to addiction?

Mental Health and How it can Decline

Lots of people think of mental health as a thing that happens to them. From this perspective, mental health is essentially static. Any changes that do take place are subject to outside forces that are not under a person’s control. But that is not the reality of mental health. Yes, your environment has an impact on your mental health. But it is not the final word on it.

No matter your environment or circumstances, there are always things that you can control in your mental health. This is the core of many psychotherapeutic methods. What does that mean?

Essentially, by focusing on these things that you can control, you can do a lot to improve your mental health even in the worst circumstances. This is critical to helping people with addiction, for whom so much control over their lives has been given up to their addiction.

We will briefly go over three of the things that you can always control.

How You React to Your Reactions

You cannot always control how you instinctively react to things. If you are an alcoholic and you smell or see alcohol, you will almost always want alcohol. But you can control how you react to that reaction. The reason is that any reaction beyond the initial reaction will usually be cognitive, rather than instinctual, and people have more control over their cognition than their instincts.

What Thoughts You Take Ownership Of

Note, you are not trying to control what thoughts you have. You are, however, able to control what thoughts you decide are really “yours”. People have intrusive thoughts all the time. They may be at the top of a tall building and wonder what it would be like to jump off.

But that does not mean they are necessarily suicidal. You get to tell the story of what your thoughts mean, meaning that you get to decide if that thought belonged to you or if it was just the product of random synapses firing off in your brain.

What You Believe About the Future in the Present

This is easily the hardest of the three, but you have a say in what you believe can or will happen in the future. Belief about the future is not an instinct, as it is a product of the frontal lobe, the most advanced part of the human brain. You simply can’t think about the future that clearly unless you are consciously thinking about it. And you have control over that level of thought.

All of these elements of controlling your mental health are internal, cognitive behaviors. None of them relate to your physical health. That is because there are things that can get in the way of your ability to physically take care of yourself. But nothing short of intoxication can get in the way of how you think of yourself, your future, and your own thoughts.

How This Relates to Addiction

Since the only thing people can reliably control is their view of the world, themselves, and how they react to it, you might not be surprised to learn that there are a lot of things that can lead to mental illness if a person loses control over them. One of those things is, of course, their ability to moderate their consumption of drugs and alcohol.

But there is a flip side to this: Yes, loss of control can lead to mental illness. But mental illness can also lead to a loss of control. Drug and alcohol abuse can turn a healthy person into an anxious, depressed, or moody wreck. But the opposite also needs to be acknowledged.

A person with a preexisting mental health condition is more vulnerable to addiction than a person in a position of relatively good mental health. This can serve to explain why certain addictions develop, as a person uses an illicit substance to self-medicate for their mental issues.

Putting it plainly, mental health issues cause an internal pain that is not easily understood or fixed by the person feeling it. And if they don’t have the time, opportunity, or finances to fix that pain with real medication, then they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a solution.


People’s ability to manage their mental health can be limited by their circumstances, but there are always people out there willing to help. The importance of controlling your cognition is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy, the main form of therapy used to treat substance abuse.

That means no matter what happens, the most powerful tools for coming back from an addiction are always within reach. Contact us here if you want to learn more:

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