Mental Illness + Drug Dependency

Posted on Aug 21, 2019 by Todd Ver Weire

Today’s criminal justice system suffers from a massive increase in various types of crimes because of an individual’s mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 2 million people with a mental illness are booked into jail. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails suffer from a serious mental health condition. Mind you, this is booked into jail – not sentenced after being found guilty or pleading guilty. These are folks that are arrested for criminal trespass, possession of fewer than 2 ounces of marijuana, possession of a dangerous drug (think a Xanax tablet without a prescription), or petty theft.

For those who struggle with mental health conditions, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol can be a tempting, if temporary solution. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for people with substance abuse issues to have struggles that reach deeper than the surface level—and which may be stem from an untreated or insufficiently addressed mental health like PTSD, anxiety, or Bi-Polar Disorder. As such, it’s important to question why someone engages in repetitive behavior when it comes to substances, as opposed to just leaping to a conclusion that someone is a substance abuser. Thus, you need to pack plenty of patience and empathy when engaging with such an individual, so you can help connect them with the resources that they truly need.

Drug dependency is a serious problem, and it is essential that we understand what draws someone to such self-destructive behaviors and substances. Don’t forget that while it may be extremely difficult for a prosecutor to prove that something is marijuana because of the newly adopted definition, it is still illegal to possess, let alone use, marijuana in Texas. Understanding why individuals choose to use illegal drugs, helps us identify the true source of the problem and aids us in getting them engaged with the appropriate resources so that they can get on the road to recovery and a healthier lifestyle.

In today’s blog, we’ll look at a few examples of mental illness which can cause such self-medicating behavior.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a complex and varied technical definition. In layman’s terms, PTSD is a mental illness that most often happens when someone “witnesses or experiences a traumatic event”. PTSD can cause someone to experience severe anxiety, depression, agitation, fear, and vivid flashbacks. Because PTSD more often than not places a person under chronic stress, drugs that increase pleasure and relieve that stress, e.g. marijuana, can become highly appealing. Because of the chronic and continuous nature of PTSD, those suffering from this disease are at high risk for addiction, and 50-66% of PTSD sufferers are also likely to battle addiction at some point in their lives. While PTSD and addiction are two separate conditions, they most definitely feed into one another. As such, an adequate treatment plan will address both issues, and not just one.

How can you and I help? Healthcare providers at specialized facilities oftentimes referred to as dual diagnosis facilities can treat both PTSD and substance abuse problems.  The best thing we can do for anyone who suffers from PTSD is to ensure they get the professional treatment they need from a clinic in Williamson County.


People with anxiety disorders are another group with an unfortunate predisposition to drug dependency. According to the National Comorbidity Study, individuals with anxiety disorders are 2-3 times more likely to have a substance use disorder at some time in their lives than the general population. Many people with anxiety issues find that they turn to substance abuse “to escape,” which makes it difficult to seek help for only one of the two issues present.

How can you and I help? Those with an anxiety disorder often seek therapy for both their anxiety and substance abuse problems. Some individuals find joining a support group designed for mental illness assistance a beneficial additional treatment option.


Schizophrenia, like PTSD, has a complex medical definition.  In layman’s terms, Schizophrenia is a neurological disorder, or series of neurological disorders, that cause an individual to perceive the world differently than how it is—this can include hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, and strange personality traits. As you can imagine, left untreated, this condition can severely impede an individual’s ability to participate in normal work, relationships, and family life. The resulting anxiety and depression from these experiences can cause individuals with schizophrenia to become vulnerable to substance abuse, which can, in turn, lead to a subsequent psychotic break and a worsening of their condition – in essence, a never-ending cycle that continues until the brain is so impaired that medicine cannot help stabilize them.

How can you and I help? Getting the right care is essential, so encourage those who suffer from this disorder to seek medical care immediately. That said, with the right support, many people with schizophrenia can live productive and healthy lives.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that is most often associated with difficulty paying attention, handling boredom, and controlling impulsive behaviors. While we may think of this as a condition most often present in children, the reality is that it doesn’t go away once an individual reaches adulthood. Many adults are prescribed medication to deal with the symptoms that come with ADHD, which can be addicting and lead to additional drug usage. It is estimated that as many as 50% of adults with ADHD have substance abuse problems.

How can you and I help? Addiction treatment programs exist for individuals with ADHD that are designed with a dual diagnosis approach in mind. This approach is designed to handle both drug dependency or substance abuse and the struggles of ADHD, in order to help afflicted individuals build healthier habits.

This is not a comprehensive list by any means but is intended to demonstrate the range of conditions and illnesses which can be drawn to drug dependency. The best thing you can do for someone with a substance abuse problem is to connect them with the tools they need to fight back and live a healthier life. If you, or someone you know, may be struggling with a substance abuse problem, you can take a free and confidential screening test to find out if it’s time to seek professional treatment.

If you have other questions about how to get support for a loved one suffering from a mental health matter, or if you need help in dealing with someone that suffers from a mental health matter, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) has resources listed on their website.

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