According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, 37% of alcohol addicts struggle with at least one mental disorder, and approximately 29% of the general public who struggle with mental illness also struggle with substance abuse, including alcohol addiction.
The simultaneous presence of alcohol addiction and mental illness prevalent in such a large majority can be attributed to several factors, including alcohol's abilities to enhance symptoms of existing mental illnesses and to rewire parts of the brain to become unstable without certain substances. Further, alcohol addiction and psychiatric disorders are connected in both ways; people with alcohol addiction are likely to develop mental illness, and people who struggle with mental illness are susceptible to falling under alcohol’s influence.
People who struggle with mental illness tend to rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism in response to trauma, anxiety, depression, and any other circumstance that impedes their mental health. Alcohol, which “slows down” the body’s nervous system, is commonly known to present temporary benefits, including feelings of relaxation, that are outweighed by long-term effects such as alcohol dependence and compromised decision making.
Due to the lack of awareness spread on mental health, those struggling with mental illness are often uneducated on healthy coping mechanisms and commonly turn to substance abuse. The reliance on alcohol instead can even be passed on through families, which explains why many consider alcoholism to be a complex genetic disease. In many cases, alcohol acts as a barrier that keeps people from instituting other coping skills, such as practicing mindfulness and/or seeking professional help.
However, there is an end to the vicious cycle of alcoholism and mental illness. There is no shame in either, as our struggles are ultimately what hold the potential to strengthen us. If you or anyone you know are fighting the battle of alcohol addiction and/or mental illness, do not hesitate to reach out!
SAMSHA National Helpline
Mental Health Hotline: 866-903-3787