Skip to the content

Admission Line 888-255-9280

Mental Illness & Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse are two of the most pressing public health issues facing our world today. Millions of people around the globe are affected, with devastating effects on individuals, families, and society at large.

And yet, despite its global reach, mental illness is largely misunderstood; sufferers often feel isolated in their struggles with depression or anxiety while seeking help. Compounding this epidemic is a growing concern over substance abuse that cuts across all demographics—from urban to rural communities, rich to poor.

And worse, many individuals struggle with both at once—leading to long-term complications that prevent them from achieving their goals and living healthy lives. Thus, it is crucial to take a holistic approach when addressing mental illness and substance abuse, recognizing that these issues are interconnected.

To help spread awareness, this blog post will discuss how mental illness and substance abuse are intertwined, what steps can be taken to address these co-occurring conditions simultaneously for effective treatment outcomes, and how we can better support those impacted by this problem.

The Cycle of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse can be intertwined in a vicious cycle. For many, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol to cope. It can quickly spiral into an addiction, worsening the underlying mental illness and leading to more serious health issues such as brain damage.

At the same time, substance abuse can also lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, creating a cycle of addiction and illness. This is especially true if the substance abuse is long-term or severe.

Persons who suffer from such a phenomenon are diagnosed with Dual Diagnosis (or Co-occurring Disorder). 7.7 million people in the United States suffer from this disorder, making it one of the country's most common mental health issues.

It is, therefore, essential to understand how mental illness and substance abuse are interconnected so that effective treatment can be provided for those suffering from dual diagnoses. Only then can we create a positive environment where individuals can learn the skills necessary to break the cycle and live healthy, fulfilling lives.

How Does Drug Use Affect The Brain?

Drugs—whether illicit or legally prescribed, taken constantly or intermittently—affect the brain in various ways. These alterations affect how we think, feel, and behave.

For those with existing mental health issues, this can be especially damaging and lead to further complications, such as impaired decision-making, difficulty concentrating, and memory lapses. In some cases, the use of substances may lead to psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, which can be difficult to treat.

But how exactly do drugs alter the brain? The answer lies in neurochemistry. Different drugs target different receptors in the brain, affecting neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and serotonin to induce pleasure or reduce anxiety.

Let's examine how each neurochemical functions and how drugs affect them.


Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that helps control alertness, attention, and concentration. It essentially works in our body's fight-or-flight response, preparing the body for action in moments of potential danger. Drugs that target norepinephrine receptors can increase alertness and energy levels, giving users a burst of energy.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain's reward system. It helps us focus, feel pleasure, and motivates us to take action. That's why drugs that target dopamine receptors are often abused since they can induce euphoria and bliss, leading to further addiction.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is another anxiety-reducing neurotransmitter that works in calming the body. Drugs targeting GABA receptors can cause relaxation and lower stress, making them attractive to those seeking relief from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.


Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. It also regulates our emotions, making it an important target for drugs that can help treat depression. Drugs targeting serotonin levels can reduce anxiety and increase happiness and well-being, making them attractive to those seeking relief from depression or other mental illnesses.

Ultimately, drugs can significantly affect the brain and its neurochemistry. A person with a dual diagnosis who is left untreated may experience or suffer from their symptoms for a long time, leading to more serious issues, including death.

But not all is lost. With the right treatment and proper care, dual diagnosis patients can learn to manage their mental health and substance abuse issues. Recovery is possible, and a better life is within reach. 

Where Do I Start?

It's important to seek help as soon as possible if you or someone you know suffers from a dual diagnosis. Several resources are available to provide support and treatment, such as counseling, support groups, and medication, so those struggling with addiction and mental illness can begin the journey to recovery.

The key to a successful remedy lies in understanding the connection between substance abuse and mental illness—including how people with mental health struggles may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief and vice versa. By acknowledging the relationship between these two populations, we can better support individuals with dual diagnoses and help them reach the long-term recovery they deserve.

When seeking treatment for an addiction or mental health issue, it's essential to find a doctor or therapist specializing in dual diagnosis treatment. This approach is known as integrated care, which combines physical and psychological therapies to treat the whole person.

Integrated care is the recommended approach for treating dual diagnosis, as it allows the patient to understand their condition better and learn how to manage it. Through this approach, patients gain insight into their mental health and substance use disorder, allowing them to make positive changes in their life and take an active role in their recovery.

Moreover, integrated care can ensure that patients receive the best treatments for both their mental health and substance abuse issues. The combination of psychological and physical therapies gives the patient a comprehensive recovery experience.

Treating dual diagnosis is complex, and having the right support system in place is essential. With the help of experienced mental health professionals and addiction specialists, those with dual diagnoses can get the necessary treatment to maintain a healthy lifestyle and achieve long-term recovery.

With that said, let's explore all the available resources and treatments for dual diagnosis to get started on the path to recovery below.

Talk With A Specialist For Treatment Options

The best way to start the process of getting help for dual diagnosis is to talk with a specialist. A mental health professional can offer an individualized assessment that considers your unique needs and challenges.

This includes a comprehensive evaluation of your current symptoms, such as signs of addiction, depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. The specialist can then develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and concerns.

Remember to be open and honest about your diagnosis and the challenges you face so they can help you develop an effective treatment plan. After all, avoiding any details or glossing over issues can interfere with the success of your recovery.

When meeting with a specialist, here are some important questions to ask:

  • What type of treatment do you recommend?
  • What options do I have for medication and psychotherapy?
  • Are there any support groups or resources I can use?
  • How long will treatment take, and what is expected of me during that time?

Here are also some tips on how to find the right specialist for your needs:

  • Ask family and friends if they can recommend a good doctor or therapist specializing in dual-diagnosis treatment
  • Search online for professionals with experience in treating dual diagnosis
  • Contact your insurance provider to see what type of mental health coverage they provide
  • Check with local hospitals and clinics to see if they offer specialized treatment for dual diagnosis

Once you have found a specialist, keep up with your appointment schedule and be honest about your progress. Doing so will ensure you get the best possible care and that any necessary modifications or changes are made promptly.

Additional tip: It's common not to click right away with the first specialist you meet. If it doesn't feel like a good fit, don't be afraid to try another doctor or therapist who may be better suited for you. 

Addiction Recovery Options

Different persons have different needs when it comes to addiction recovery. Some may find 12-step programs helpful, and others may prefer alternative treatments such as yoga or meditation. Therefore, numerous options are available to those struggling with dual diagnosis to find the one that works best for them.

The following are some common addiction recovery options to consider:

12 Step Programs

Also known as twelve-step facilitation therapy, these peer-led support groups involve guiding principles to help individuals with addictions understand and admit their issues. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a great example of a 12-step program and is popular among those with alcohol addiction.

The 12 steps include admitting powerlessness over an addiction, seeking help from a higher power, making an inventory of wrongs, and making amends for those that have been hurt by the addiction.

  1. Admitting powerlessness over the addiction
  2. Believing that a higher power (in whatever form) can help
  3. Deciding to turn control over to the higher power
  4. Taking a personal inventory
  5. Admitting to the higher power, oneself, and another person the wrongs done
  6. Being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in one's character
  7. Asking the higher power to remove those shortcomings
  8. Making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs
  9. Contacting those who have been hurt unless doing so would harm the person
  10. Continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when one is wrong
  11. Seeking enlightenment and connection with the higher power via prayer and meditation
  12. Carrying the message of the 12 Steps to others in need

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT uses techniques to help individuals identify and change thought patterns that can lead to addiction. It helps individuals understand why they have made certain choices, how to identify and manage triggers, and how to create healthier coping strategies.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT combines behavioral therapy with medications to help an individual overcome an addiction. The most common drugs used in MAT are buprenorphine and methadone, which help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Nutrition Therapy

Nutritional therapy enables people with addiction to regain physical health and manage their cravings. It involves a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that can help reduce cravings and improve overall health.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

REBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals understand and modify irrational beliefs and self-defeating behaviors. It helps individuals identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones. Likewise, it stresses the power of self-awareness and encourages individuals to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.


Detoxification is the process of removing all traces of drugs or alcohol from the body. Detox is done in an environment such as a hospital or a residential facility, where the patient is closely monitored to help ensure that any potential withdrawal symptoms are managed safely.

Support Groups 

Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, feelings, and struggles with addiction. It is a meaningful part of the recovery process, as it helps individuals feel less isolated and more connected to others in a similar situation, hear stories of hope and recovery, learn coping skills, and gain strength from.

Mental Health Options

In addition to the interventions mentioned above, other treatments are available for those with dual diagnosis. Mental health options such as psychotherapy, counseling, and medication management can help individuals develop the skills to manage their mental health issues and make meaningful changes.


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help individuals understand their thoughts and feelings and identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to the addiction. It can also support individuals in identifying and changing problematic thought patterns, behaviors, and relationships. Psychotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments such as medication, support groups, and lifestyle changes.


Counseling is another type of treatment that can be beneficial for those with addiction. Counselors provide support, guidance, and direction to individuals struggling with addiction. They can help individuals identify triggers, develop healthier coping skills, build self-esteem, and learn more productive ways to manage stress.

Medication Management

Medication management is a form of treatment that helps individuals manage their mental health issues through medications. It can also help individuals find relief from symptoms, lessen cravings, and reduce the risk of relapse. A psychiatrist or primary care provider will work with an individual to determine the best treatment and make any necessary adjustments.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation can aid individuals with dual diagnoses to reduce stress, improve focus and mindfulness, increase self-awareness, and better control their emotions. These activities are great for relieving symptoms of mental illness, reducing cravings, and helping individuals develop healthier coping strategies.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic treatment is a type of therapy that treats the "whole" person. It incorporates a person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects to help them achieve optimal health. Holistic treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and herbal remedies can help reduce stress, improve mental health, and promote overall well-being.

Overall, these interventions can be helpful for individuals with dual diagnosis. However, it is important to remember that no single treatment is right for everyone. The best approach is to create a personalized plan that combines several interventions to help individuals reach their goals.

A strong support system is vital for success, so remember to seek the help you need. It is also essential to remember that recovery is a journey, and it may take time for individuals to reach their full potential. 

You can achieve your goals and live a healthier, happier life with the right interventions, patience, and determination.

If you're ready to start your journey today, contact Jackson House at (888) 255-9280 for more information about our dual diagnosis treatment program. Our experienced, compassionate staff is here to help you every step of the way.

About the author

Jackson House

Jackson House

We built Jackson House because we realized there was a critical gap in our healthcare system and many individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems were struggling because of it. While there are many outpatient treatment options and locked, inpatient facilities there was nothing in the middle. Nothing to help people who needed around the clock care but wanted to receive treatment voluntarily, on their own terms. Jackson House is different. We provide clients with the level of care they need in a welcoming environment. When you walk through our doors, we will meet you wherever you’re at and help you on your journey toward feeling better.

It's time to feel better

We are here to help and we are in-network with most insurance providers. Call us for a free and confidential consultation.

The 'First name' field is required
The 'Last name' field is required
Please enter a valid Email address

If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.