Substance abuse and mental health are linked because the psychological effects of drug addiction, including alcohol, cause changes in your body and brain. A careful balance of chemicals keeps the cogs turning inside your body, and even the smallest change can cause you to experience negative symptoms. Because the risk factors for mental health and substance abuse are comparable, this may be attributed to the fact that drug addiction can cause or worsen mental health conditions.

The Emotional and Psychological Strains of Addiction

Excessive alcohol and drug use sends your nervous system into disarray, rewires your brain, and causes inflammation — all of which can cause mental illness. Read on to find out more about the emotional effects of substance use disorders.

How Addiction Rewires the Brain

One of the most profound changes that occur in people who struggle with drug abuse & addiction is in the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of motivation, pleasure, and reward — and alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs all hijack this pathway. If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, you’ll have noticed a shift in priorities. Illicit drugs’ chemical compounds rewire brain chemistry and push for the need to feed on more drug use.

As an addicted person needs an increasing amount of their substance of choice to get the same high, they become more and more preoccupied with procuring and using substances. This is what leads to the most damaging effects of addiction. To the sufferer, friends, family, work, and being an upstanding citizen become less important than inebriation. More importantly, the causes and effects of drug addiction create new mental health issues that can affect the user and the social network around them.

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The Vicious Cycle: Guilt, Emotional Pain, and Substance Abuse

Often, people in addiction treatment centers are recovering from experiencing an endless cycle of guilt, emotional pain, and short-term relief from substances. This negative feedback loop can eventually lead to mental health issues and other side effects.

Health Complications Beyond the Mind: The Physical Impact

In addition to the psychological effects of addiction, drug and alcohol abuse have the potential to lead to an array of other health consequences and conditions. Chronic substance use is a risk factor for the following illnesses:

  • Disorders that affect decision-making
  • Heart disease including high blood pressure
  • Psychosis
  • Reduced immune function
  • Stomach issues
  • Respiratory problems
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney disease

How Drug Abuse Alters the Brain’s Reward System

Dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter that affects your mood and mental state; serotonin, norepinephrine, and many more play a part. Just like addiction, mental disorders aren’t usually the result of one trigger or cause. Not everyone will experience the following mental illnesses, but many people do.

1. Anxiety: The Dual Role of Stimulants and Depressants

Anxiety is best described as a disorder of the fight-or-flight response, where someone perceives danger that isn’t there. It includes the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive worrying
  • Sweating
  • An impending sense of doom
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Tension
  • Insomnia

There are a lot of similarities between anxiety and the effects of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Conversely, using central nervous system depressants can also increase the risk of a person developing anxiety. Although they calm a person’s nerves while they’re intoxicated, they intensify anxiety when the effects wear off.

Additionally, many addicts experience anxiety around trying to hide their habits from other people. In a lot of cases, it’s difficult to tell whether anxious people are more likely to abuse substances or if illicit drugs and alcohol cause anxiety.

2. The Stigma of Addiction: Navigating Shame and Guilt

There’s a stigma attached to addiction in society, and there’s a lot of guilt and shame for the individuals who struggle with the condition. Often, this is adding fuel to a fire that was already burning strong. People with substance use disorders tend to evaluate themselves negatively on a regular basis, which is a habit that has its roots in childhood experiences. Continual negative self-talk adds to feelings of shame and guilt.

When you constantly feel as if you’ve done something wrong, it’s tempting to try to cover up these challenging emotions with drugs and alcohol. These unhelpful emotions contribute to the negative feedback loop that sends people spiraling into addiction.

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3. A Negative Feedback Loop

From an outside perspective, someone with an addiction looks like they’re repeatedly making bad choices and ignoring reason. However, the truth is far more complicated and nuanced — so much so that it can be very difficult for people to overcome a substance use disorder without inpatient or outpatient addiction program. This is partly due to a negative feedback loop that occurs in the mind.

When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they feel a sense of comfort they haven’t been able to get elsewhere. Inevitably, this feeling is replaced by guilt and shame as they sober up and face the consequences of their actions. However, the weight of these feelings forces them to seek comfort in substances.

4. Depression and Addiction: A Two-Way Street

Another mental illness strongly associated with addiction is depression. Like anxiety, it’s not clear whether the depression or substance abuse problem comes first — but there is a clear link. The main symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Dysregulated emotion
  • Loss of interest
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Suicidal ideation

Some withdrawal symptoms overlap with the signs of depression, which can make diagnosing coexisting addiction challenging before the SUD has been treated. Most people require ongoing therapy to help them overcome depression.

5. Loss of Interest: The Shared Symptom of Addiction and Depression

Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy is a key symptom of both addiction and depression, but overcoming the former makes it much easier to gain control over the latter. It’s such a destructive symptom because of how demotivating it is to feel there’s no joy in the world. Everyone has passions and interests, but getting back to finding them isn’t easy for someone with these conditions.

A therapist consoles a patient displaying signs of the mental consequences of addiction

Treatment Approaches: Addressing the Root Causes

Treatment programs help you unravel the reasons behind your unhealthy substance use so you can find new coping mechanisms and address any underlying issues in recovery therapy.

Recovery at the Crossroads: A Holistic Approach to Healing

In our latest deep-dive into the world of substance abuse, we’ve unveiled the often-overlooked yet devastating psychological effects of drug addiction. This isn’t just about the direct hit on one’s mental health; it’s about the subtle, insidious ripples that impact behavior, relationships, and daily life.

Recovery at the Crossroads in NJ is dedicated to helping individuals navigate these turbulent waters. With a holistic approach that encompasses both medical and therapeutic interventions, Recovery at the Crossroads addresses not just the symptoms but the root causes of addiction.

If you think the behavior of a loved one is a sign of a serious problem, call our addiction treatment center in New Jersey today at 856-644-6929 for more information about our drug addiction treatment and the emotional effects of drugs. Start your addiction recovery today.