Grand Futures: Relationship between substance use and mental health |

Grand Futures: Relationship between substance use and mental health

Rachel Kandzierski
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

There has long been a connection between substance use and mental illness, two treatable illnesses. According to a 2018 study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 19.3 million adults have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Among these people, nearly half were also diagnosed with a mental illness. 

Alcohol and drugs are known to have various physiological effects, many of which occur in the brain and can affect a person’s judgement, motivations and executive thinking ability.

Most substances actively work to rewire the brain by interfering with the way neurons send, receive and interpret signals from neurotransmitters that the brain naturally produces. Similarly, mental illness is often derived by imbalances of these neurotransmitters in the brain, due to either too much or too little of a specific chemical.   

Many people, youth included, choose to self-medicate for already existing symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses. The use of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to provide a sense of relief is fairly common, but it is important to remember that this is only a temporary solution. It is harmful physically and mentally, especially for a brain that may still be developing. 

While substance misuse and abuse is harmful, its effects are often significantly more detrimental to those who have an existing mental health issue or those who are more susceptible to mental illness as well as people who are genetically predisposed to addiction. Drug and alcohol use can promote the onset of one or more symptoms of a mental health problem.

In extreme cases, these symptoms are permanent and require lifetime treatment, such as the effects that hallucinogenic drugs and stimulants like LSD, cocaine and marijuana have on people who are susceptible to schizophrenia. In less extreme, more frequent cases, substance abuse can cause symptoms of common mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. 

It is important for parents, peers, friends and family to openly communicate about issues surrounding mental health and substance use without judgement. Be nonjudgemental, make sure to really listen to what the other person has to say and be prepared to provide resources and support.

Resources on substance use and abuse can be found at and through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration at You can also get assistance through the national Helpline for mental health and substance abuse at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Rachel Kandzierski is a communications associate for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

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