Is Addiction a Mental Health Issue? - AspenRidge

We need to start talking about addiction in terms of mental health.  We now have enough scientifically tested and reviewed evidence that substance use is not some moral failing. Many people associate mental illness with diagnoses like anxiety and depression, but did you know there is a mental health diagnosis called substance abuse disorder?

According to the National Mental Health Institute, substance abuse disorder is “a mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to a person’s inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.”


Is Substance Abuse a Mental Health Issue?

Yes, drug addiction is a mental health issue. Alcohol addiction is a mental health issue. All Addictions are mental health issues. Often substance abuse disorder (SUD) is a co-occurring disorder with another mental health diagnosis. National Mental Health Alliance defines a co-occurring disorder as a substance use disorder that coincides with individuals with mental illness.

What Are Co-occurring Disorders?

In many cases, people with co-occurring disorders will use substances for self-medication. Because of the stigma in society, people often don’t seek help for their mental health symptoms and, in turn, will self-medicate. Over time, self-medication can change a person’s brain structure and physical body, leading to substance dependency. That is why it is essential to get familiar with types of substance use disorders and the criteria for the diagnosis.

Substance abuse disorder is broken down into two categories; Substance use and substance dependency. Substance use is a pattern that affects a person’s behavior, and substance dependency is a physical and mental dependency on a substance.

According to the DSM 5 (sort of an official encyclopedia for mental health professionals), to meet the diagnosis for SUD, an individual must meet at least two criteria below within the last 12 months and be distressed from their substance use.

  • Recurrent substance use in situations which is physically hazardous.
  • Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.
  • Recurrent substance use results in a failure to fulfill significant role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
    • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; and or
    • The substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    • A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect; and or
    • A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of substance.
  • The substance is often taken in more significant amounts or over an extended period than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to reduce or control substance use.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are reduced because of substance use.
  • The substance use Is continued despite knowledge of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems that are likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance or recover from its efforts.
  • Craving or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.

Substance Use Disorder is then classified as mild, moderate, and severe. Mild would mean meeting two to three criteria, moderate would be four to five, and severe, six or more.

Is Drug Use a Mental Health Issue?

Mental health disorders in the DSM-5 are broadly divided into 10 classes of drugs for which substance-related conditions can apply:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Opiates
  • Sedatives, hypnotics, and anxiolytics
  • Stimulants
  • Tobacco
  • Other or unknown substances.


Addiction is a brain disease that ultimately impacts a person’s ability to make decisions and make proper judgments. The change in brain function is equivalent to any other mental health disorder. It is essential to understand that SUD is a mental health disorder and should be treated as such.

To help people fully recover, we must end the stigma of addiction being a choice and understand the impact of SUDs on the brain. Along with understanding SUDs, we need to educate the community about co-occurring disorders and provide proper resources for handling many mental health disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call AspenRidge Recovery today to speak with one of our admissions specialists. They’ll help you find the best treatment option for your situation, even if it isn’t with us. You can call us  24/7 at (866) 271-2173 or visit and learn more about our virtual outpatient programs accessible in multiple states.