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Substance abuse and mental health

3-minute read

Substance use disorders are a major cause of mental illness. People who abuse alcohol or drugs are much more likely to develop mental illnesses than those who don’t.

Likewise, people with mental illness are also prone to developing substance use disorders. Sadly, this leads to a vicious cycle in which each condition makes the other worse and it can be hard to understand cause and effect.

Alcohol and mental health

Alcohol is the most widely used social drug in Australia. Its use affects different people in different ways.

  • People with mental health issues are more likely to abuse alcohol than others.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of depression and anxiety in some people.
  • Alcohol use is linked to a higher rate of common conditions (such as depression, social anxiety or general anxiety) as well as less common mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia.
  • In the short term, alcohol is a major cause of violence and suicidal behaviour.
  • Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of medications such as antidepressants.

Drugs and mental health

Having a mental illness can make a person more likely to abuse drugs to lessen their symptoms and make them feel better in the short term. In other people, drug problems may trigger the first symptoms of mental illness. People with a mental illness experience drug problems at a far higher rate than the general community. Studies suggest that around half these people also have a drug or alcohol problem.

Learn more here about how alcohol and other drugs such as ice (crystal meth), MDMA (ecstasy), marijuana (cannabis), cocaine, speed, ketamine, GHB, heroin and LSD might affect your mental health.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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