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Can Addictions Be Linked To Mental Illness?



Addictive behavior traits are very common.  Some addictions are relatively harmless and although it might be annoying to your family if you refuse to miss an episode of Coronation Street without slipping into an emotional decline, an addiction to soap operas is not going to kill you.  However, other addictions are far more dangerous: drugs, alcohol, and even sex if you are not choosy about the kind of partners you hook up with, can cause all kinds of health problems and ruin your life if you don’t seek treatment.

What is the Definition of an Addiction

An addiction is an overwhelming desire for a substance, activity, or ‘something’.  Cigarette smokers are normally addicted to nicotine and without it, they suffer from withdrawal symptoms.  Drug addicts are identical to smokers, the only difference being that they are dependent on an illegal substance whereas smoking cigarettes is socially acceptable.

Are there Different Types of Addictions

Some experts divide addictions into two main categories. The first is an addiction to a substance, for example:

The second type of addiction is linked to compulsive behavioral patterns:

  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Eating
  • Sex
  • Spending

When is Addiction Considered to be a Problem

Lots of people display compulsive behavior patterns and it is not necessarily an issue to themselves or others.  For example, you might visit the local betting shop every weekend to place a bet on the horses, or you might enjoy online roulette or poker games for relaxation purposes.  If you can keep your activities under control, you probably don’t have a problem, but if you are gambling your life savings away and are facing financial ruin as a result of your addiction to online roulette, then you clearly do have a problem.

What is the Link between Addictive Behaviour and Mental Illness

The link between addictions and mental illness is very complex.  On the one hand, addictive behavior is one of the symptoms of certain personality disorders, but on the other, some patients resort to addictive behaviors as a way of coping with their mental health problems.  Because of the difficulties in separating the two, a lot of people suffering from addictions do not receive the right diagnosis for their mental health problems and vice versa.

Which Personality Disorders Are Linked to Addictive Behaviour


Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness characterized by psychotic episodes featuring hallucinations and delusional behavior.  As a result, untreated schizophrenics often resort to alcohol and drug abuse as a way of coping with their symptoms.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme depressive lows and manic highs and it is during the manic episodes that the patient may exhibit addictive behaviors such as gambling, alcohol, and drug abuse.  Alcohol addiction can also be used to mask the symptoms of depression and level out the intense mood swings.

Anxiety disorders

Alcoholism is very common in those suffering from the spectrum of anxiety disorders, but other compulsive behaviors may also be exhibited, for example in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

There is a strong link between addiction and BPD and patients with BPD are in a high-risk category for addictive behavioral patterns.  Patients with BPD are emotionally unstable and prone to addictive behaviors.  Gambling, alcoholism, and drug abuse are common as the patient tries to cope with their fear of abandonment.  Unfortunately, addiction usually makes most of the symptoms, in particular depression and volatile rages, worse.

Eating disorders

In this instance, the addiction is the root cause as well as a symptom of the disorder. The patient compulsively overeats, starves, or indulges in other compulsive behaviors such as over-exercising, abusing laxatives, and purging.

Can Addiction Cause Mental Health Disorders

There is a proven link between drug abuse (marijuana, methamphetamine, LSD, and alcohol) and the subsequent development of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.  Research has shown that teenage drug users are much more likely to develop schizophrenia and psychosis later in life.  The younger the person is when they use drugs, the more serious the repercussions are because the brain is still developing up to the age of 21.  However, there is also believed to also be a genetic component in the development of schizophrenia in later life and some individuals are more susceptible than others, irrespective of drug use.