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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on July 31, 2023
4 min read

Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness?

What is a Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses are also known as mental health disorders. They refer to an extensive range of disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.1

Some examples of mental health disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictive behaviors

Many people have mental health issues and concerns from time to time. A mental health problem becomes a mental illness when it affects a person’s ability to function in society.

Mental illnesses can lead to problems with work, school, and relationships. In many cases, symptoms can be treated with a combination of medications and therapy.


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Is Alcoholism Considered a Mental Illness?

Alcoholism (or alcohol use disorder) is recognized as a substance use disorder that produces both physical and psychological symptoms.

The psychological symptoms are significant enough to classify alcohol addiction as a mental illness.

Can Alcohol Addiction Lead to a Mental Health Disorder?

Alcohol addiction can occur as a result of another mental illness.

Knowing the patient’s family history, social and environmental factors, and the timeframe of illness gives a better understanding of the diagnosis.

Learning to tell the difference between an alcohol-induced mental illness and a condition that existed before an alcohol use disorder can be challenging.

Clinicians have to determine whether the mental illness existed prior to the alcohol use disorder or if it was caused by alcohol.


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What is a Dual-Diagnosis (Co-Occurring Disorders)? 

A co-occurring disorder (or dual-diagnosis) is when one person has two or more mental illnesses.2

These co-occurring conditions may overlap and begin at the same time. Or, one may occur before or after the other.

There is a strong link between substance use disorders and other mental health disorders. Around half of people with one disorder will develop at least one more co-occurring mental health problem in their lifetime.2

Co-occurring disorders can also worsen each other’s severity. 


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Common Mental Health Disorders Associated With Alcoholism

Here are some common mental health disorders associated with alcoholism:


Depression is a type of mental health disorder that causes a consistently negative outlook. It’s one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. It affects a person’s thoughts and actions.

Alcohol is sometimes used as a quick fix to treat the symptoms of depression. However, self-medicating depression with alcohol is dangerous and can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. It also worsens symptoms of depression overall.

Anxiety Disorders

Around 18 percent of the general population have a co-occurring anxiety disorder of some form.4 Social anxiety disorders have a particularly strong link to marijuana use problems.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder are all connected to an increased risk of co-occurring alcoholism. 

Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar disorder is described as a manic-depressive illness. The condition involves erratic mood swings that shift from extreme highs to severe lows.

Millions of people in the United States have bipolar disorder, ranging from adolescents to seniors. Mood swings resulting from bipolar disorder can lead to a wide range of mental and physical symptoms.

Someone with bipolar disorder has an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder like alcoholism. These conditions are dangerous when they co-occur, as alcohol can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders. It involves uncontrollable obsessions that lead to repeated compulsions. Many people with OCD also suffer from a co-occurring disorder like alcoholism.

To avoid intrusive thoughts or behaviors, some people with OCD turn to alcohol and drugs. However, instead of helping someone relax and escape their fears, substance misuse may make OCD worse.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that affects many people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events. These events include natural disasters, severe accidents, war/combat scenes, and rape, among others. 

Relative to those without PTSD, people with the condition are more likely to meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

Personality Disorders

A personality disorder is a type of mental illness in which the patient has a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, behaving, and functioning.

People treated with addiction are more likely to have a personality disorder than those who are not.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders 

Someone with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder must have both problems treated.

Many treatment options for both conditions overlap and may include:

Integrated treatment for substance use disorders and mental illness is known to be consistently superior compared to separate treatments for each condition.5 

Treatment of substance use disorders and mental illnesses often involves using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies to enhance interpersonal and coping skills.

It may also include using approaches that support motivation and functional recovery.

Those with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders show poorer treatment outcomes than those with no mental illness. This negatively affects results.

Someone with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder must have both problems treated.

Updated on July 31, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1.   Mental illness, Mayo Clinic, June 2019

  2. Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses, National Institute on Drug Abuse, August 2018

  3. Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report, National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 2020

  4. Flynn, Patrick M, and Barry S Brown. “Co-occurring disorders in substance abuse treatment: issues and prospects.” Journal of substance abuse treatment vol. 34,1 : 36-47

  5. NIDA. “What are the treatments for comorbid substance use disorder and mental health conditions?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021

  6. Drake, Robert E, and Kim T Mueser. “Alcohol-Use Disorder and Severe Mental Illness.” Alcohol health and research world vol. 20,2 : 87-93.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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