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Mental Health
4 minutes

Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on:
A girl touching her head next to a blurry version of herself.

Updated on

19 Jun, 2024


  • Addiction is both a mental illness and a brain disease.
  • Specifically drug and alcohol addiction can hijack the reward system and alter brain chemistry.
  • It can worsen mental health and fuel further substance use.
  • Treatment is available to address the underlying causes and rebuild lives.

Ever reach for your phone first thing in the morning for a quick social media fix? That fleeting feeling of satisfaction quickly fades, replaced by a nagging urge for “just one more scroll.”

This daily cycle might seem harmless. However, for millions of people, a similar pattern plays out with substances like alcohol and drugs. And these habits can morph into something more significant – addiction.

So, is addiction simply a bad habit, or is there something deeper at play? Is addiction a mental illness, a physical disorder, or both? This blog will explore the complexities of addiction and its impact on both our minds and bodies.

Understanding Addiction

We all have our go-to coping mechanisms, that morning coffee or the relaxing evening TV show. But when does a behavior cross the line from a simple habit to a full-blown addiction?

Addiction is more than just wanting something – it’s a complex condition characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences.

You may be wondering if addiction is a mental disorder or a physical disorder. The answer is both.

Substances like drugs and alcohol can hijack the brain’s reward system. This can lead to intense cravings and make it difficult to resist use. Over time, these substances alter brain chemistry, impacting things like decision-making and impulse control.

This doesn’t mean addiction is purely a physical phenomenon. The mental aspects are undeniable making addiction a mental health issue as well.

Many people with addiction use substances as a way to self-medicate. They usually have underlying mental health issues like anxiety or depression. The cycle becomes self-perpetuating: addiction can worsen mental health, and mental health struggles fuel further substance use. This is also known as dual diagnosis.

In essence, addiction is a mental health disorder with physical consequences.

Is Addiction a Disease?

For many years, addiction was viewed as a moral failing, a lack of willpower. However, scientific evidence now paints a different picture. Addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a choice someone makes out of the blue.

Some may wonder if drug addiction is a mental illness or a disease. This is where the distinction can blur.

The changes in brain chemistry caused by addiction can manifest in a variety of ways. This may include depression, anxiety, and even psychotic episodes. This further reinforces the disease model, as it highlights the physical changes impacting mental health.

The term most commonly used today is substance use disorder (SUD). This spectrum encompasses a range of severities, with addiction representing the most extreme form.

Someone with a mild SUD might struggle with occasional problematic substance use. But someone with a severe SUD experiences significant impairment in daily life due to their addiction.

Understanding addiction as a disease is crucial for effective treatment. It removes the blame and shame often associated with this condition. It paves the way for evidence-based therapies that address the underlying neurological changes and offer hope for recovery.

A support group comforting a man.

The Impact of Addiction

Addiction’s tentacles reach far beyond the initial substance use. It creates a ripple effect, impacting not just the brain but a person’s entire mental health and quality of life.

Let’s explore some of these consequences.

Mental Health

As we covered briefly before, the struggle to control substance use creates a breeding ground for anxiety and depression.

Relationships with loved ones become strained, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Self-esteem plummets as the cycle of addiction continues. And some people with addiction may even experience hallucinations or paranoia, particularly in severe cases.

Quality of Life

Addiction often strains relationships with loved ones. Broken promises and erratic behavior can weaken trust and damage family bonds. Friendships may also suffer as the focus becomes centered around obtaining and using the substance.

Addiction can also significantly impact a person’s ability to hold down a job or manage finances responsibly. Absences, decreased productivity, and risky behavior can lead to job loss. The cost of supporting the addiction can also lead to financial strain.

Overall Functioning

Addiction takes a toll on a person’s overall quality of life.

Physical health can decline because of neglect or substance-related harm. Daily routines get disrupted, making even basic self-care difficult.

For example, alcoholism shows how addiction and mental health are connected. Excessive alcohol consumption disrupts the brain’s production of mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. It can cause depression, anxiety, and paranoia. People might drink more to try to feel better, but it just makes things worse in the long run.

The main point is simple: addiction isn’t just about the substance. It’s a complicated disease that affects mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Thankfully, with the right treatment, people can recover from addiction and rebuild their lives.

Seeking Help & Treatment

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to remember, you are not alone. Addiction is a treatable disease, and help is available.

The first step is acknowledging the problem and seeking professional help. This might feel daunting, but there are many resources available.

  • Addiction treatment centers: These facilities offer a variety of treatment programs, from inpatient detox to outpatient rehab.
  • Mental health professionals: Therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists can provide individual or group therapy to address the underlying causes of addiction and develop coping mechanisms.
  • Support groups: Connecting with others who understand the challenges of addiction can be incredibly empowering. Support groups offer a safe space to share experiences, find encouragement, and build a network of support.

Treatment for addiction is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The best course of action will depend on a few things. This could include the severity of the addiction, the specific substance involved, and the individual’s needs.

There may be setbacks along the way. But with commitment and support, it is possible to overcome addiction and build a healthy, fulfilling life.

Ready to transform your life? Reach out to us today at Infinite Recovery.

We offer a variety of treatment options to fit your needs. Our compassionate team is dedicated to supporting you on your path to recovery.

Recovery is possible! Take the first step towards a new life today.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drugs, alcohol or a dual diagnosis mental condition we are here to help. Our caring and compassionate admissions team is here for you, call today!
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Michael Dadashi

Medical Content Writer

Family owned and operated since 2014, Infinite Recovery was founded by Michael & Ylianna Dadashi to give those struggling with addiction a second chance and help to rebuild their lives. Clean and sober since 2009, Michael is passionate about helping others discover their authentic self and live a life of true freedom and purpose.

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