Addiction or a Mental Health Problem?

A common theme when speaking to people trying to help their loved one is that they believe there is an underlying problem that is responsible for their behaviour. They are left pondering, is this addiction or a mental health problem? I can understand how this may help the non-addicted person to come to terms with the current situation because it is (in my opinion) more socially acceptable to be mentally ill than an addict. In my experience, those suffering from mental health problems are viewed as victims that need to be helped, whereas addicts are simply people that have gotten themselves into this situation and need to buck their ideas up.

I am not saying that it is never the case that there are also underlying mental health problems; it is quite common for there to be a link between certain disorders and addictive behaviour. However, I want to take this opportunity to draw attention to two things that those trying to help a loved one with addiction may not be aware of. Firstly, addiction and mental illness can often prove to be a chicken-or-egg type situation. If we focus on depression here – it is possible that the person may have been depressed to start with, however many drugs, and alcohol, in particular, act as depressants meaning that the person feels lower once it is in their system. This can then become a vicious circle; the person feels bad so they drink, they then feel worse so they drink more, and so on.

Which leads me to my second point. It is impossible to ascertain whether the person is suffering from mental illness all the time the substance is still in their body. For example, it is impossible to know whether the person is experiencing drug-induced psychosis or something else all the time there are substances affecting the way they behave. In order for a person’s mental health status to be assessed, it is necessary to ascertain their baseline, which means the way they behave when they are completely free from substances. Therefore, the first step is always to complete a detox before the possibility of looking at underlying conditions becomes possible. Often, even close family members will be shocked by the difference in the presentation of a loved-one after only a few short weeks – it is the nature of addiction to be as destructive as possible.

If you are unsure whether your loved one needs detox or an assessment, give us a call. We are happy to help.


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UK Addiction Treatment Group.

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