How Drug Use and Addiction Impacts Mental Health

March 25, 2019

From depression and anxiety through to psychosis, we know that substance abuse and mental wellbeing are inextricably linked.

In a state of addiction, a user’s mental health can be severely impacted. Whether you’re looking to provide support as a professional, a family member or a loved one, it’s important to understand how addiction affects mental health, and how you can implement steps to encourage recovery.

Short Term Impacts of Drug Use on Mental Health

Panic attacks with disabling symptoms such as hyperventilation, pounding heart and high blood pressure can be brought on as a result of substance ingestion (namely cocaine, ecstasy and LSD). This can cause severe distress for the user, and bring on a feeling of intense fear.

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and mushrooms can induce the user into a state of psychosis and hallucination. This can lead users into seeing or hearing things that are not there, as well as causing potential delusion for the user’s mental wellbeing. As a result, this can lead users to believe things that aren’t true.

As a short-term impact of drug use, withdrawals from sedatives such as amphetamine, cocaine and opioids can cause anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Although physical symptoms often subside after 2-3 days, the psychological symptoms can linger for much longer.addiction affects mental health - outline of the brain

Long Term Impacts of Drug Use on Mental Health

After an extended period of drug use, a person’s mental health becomes impaired and is one of the ways addiction affects mental health. This is largely due to the effects that drugs have on the brain’s neurotransmitters. Drugs such as opioids increase the brain’s production of serotonin levels, in turn inducing a sense of happiness. After a user has stopped taking their chosen drug, serotonin levels drop – and the brain can’t naturally replicate the same great amount of serotonin that drugs can induce. This alone contributes to how addiction is formed, and can often serve as the baseline for continued drug use.

Due to decreased serotonin, depression can often occur when addicts are in recovery or do not have access to drugs. Over time with substance abuse, these feelings of sadness and lack of energy can be mistaken for depression when they are in-fact symptoms of withdrawal.

One of the most severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia can also be brought on by extended periods of drug use, particularly with drugs that target neurotransmitters and induce hallucinations or delusions.

Mental Illness and Addiction

Addiction affects mental health in more ways than one, and it’s important to know that many people who are affected by addiction also suffer from a mental illness. Also known as duel diagnoses, the problem of addiction affects people with a mental illness at a much higher rate than the general population. In Australia, it is estimated that about 25 per cent of people with anxiety disorders, affective disorders and substance use disorders also have another mental disorder. Furthermore, it is estimated that 90 per cent of males with schizophrenia may have a substance use problem.

The greater problem of addiction for those who suffer from mental illness is that there are few services that tackle both issues at once. Those with a mental illness often require additional assistance during addiction recovery. This can include increased challenging behaviours including self-harm, aggression and non-compliance with treatment.

Professor Amanda Baker will be at this year’s Australian & New Zealand Addiction Conference, speaking on the topic of ‘Treatment Opportunities for People with Co-existing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders’.


Hear more about the link between mental illness and addiction, and discover Professor’s suggested treatment opportunities. Find out more here.

how addiction affects mental health

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