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Is Drug Addiction a Type of Mental Illness?

Is Drug Addiction a Type of Mental IllnessFor many people, substance abuse is a problem. Many of those who have addiction issues even know they are addicted. However, they feel powerless to stop abusing drugs even when the consequences are dire. The question then becomes: Is drug addiction a type of mental illness? To answer this question, it’s necessary to look at the issue from more than one angle.

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Drug Addiction Defined

Addiction represents a chronic dysfunction in the brain, according to Healthline.

When people deal with addiction, their brain’s system of motivation, memory, and reward is thrown off-kilter. If the addiction is severe enough, addicts will take drugs – the reward in the system – even if the consequences for doing so come with severe consequences, like financial ruin, divorce or even jail time.

Addiction comes with a cycle, meaning that the more an addict rewards the addiction, the more the addiction needs to be rewarded. It gets to a point where the high that the addict used to get from using doesn’t feel the same. More drugs or alcohol is required to feel the same high.

Mental Illness Defined

According to the Mayo Clinic, mental health disorders can affect the way a person thinks or behaves. It can also affect a person’s mood. Mental illness can be a one-time occurrence, an occasional occurrence or chronic. Many people will deal with mental health issues, like depression, though the condition may not be chronic.

On the other hand, some mental disorders, like schizophrenia or addiction can be more chronic. Even mild issues with mental health can cause stress and for many people, a severe mental disorder may affect the ability to function. A mental illness may also affect some people’s relationships or work. Fortunately, therapy and medication can help these conditions in many cases.

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Drug Addiction as Mental Illness

Addictions, including drug addictions, are considered a type of mental illness. According to the American Psychiatry Association, this condition is called substance use disorder. Substance abuse affects thinking, mood and the functioning of the body. The wiring of the addict’s brain creates cravings for the substance, which in turn may change the brain. This brain change affects decision making, behavior control, and memory.


Treatment for addiction is multifaceted. Sometimes, it’s enough for the addict to attend a 12-step program. At other times, the addict may require counseling. For severe cases of addiction, a formal treatment program, including stays in a hospital-like setting are required.

The addicted person must be willing to acknowledge the issue and be willing to get treatment. Treatment requires the addict to stop using addictive substances. However, there are some medications that an addict may be prescribed. These medications curb the cravings for the addictive substances or block the high that may come from taking drugs, making sobriety more attainable.

Initially, the addict may need to attend meetings or talk to his or her sponsor daily to get and remain sober. After a time, the addict can ease back on meetings, though some addicts must continue to attend meetings off and on throughout their lives to maintain their sobriety. It’s a very individual process. However, according to Psychology Today, the longer a person is sober, usually, at least five years, the less likely that person will relapse.

Last Thoughts

Drug addiction is considered a mental illness because it affects mood, behavior and the body. However, like many types of mental health issues, it is treatable.

Most addicts must attend some sort of program that helps them to get and stay sober. However, for the addict who has been sober for at least five years, the chances of relapse are very small. For them, it isn’t so much about whether or not drug addiction is a mental illness as it is about finding a way to effectively deal with it.

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