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Alcohol Addiction and Mental Illness

Alcoholism is a prevalent disease that affects individuals and families across the U.S. As of 2022, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 29.5 million people ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This number has nearly doubled since 2018, when AUD estimates were just over 15 million. With the rise in alcoholism, our treatment programs work to provide help to those who are willing and ready. 

In this blog on alcoholism, we’ll take a look at its ties to mental illness, answering the following:

Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness or Disease?

Alcoholism is a severe medical condition defined by the vast majority of clinicians as an addiction and disease. Along with this, alcoholism is also considered a mental health disorder due to its significant impact on the mind. Alcoholism can essentially be defined as a “disease of the mind.”

What Makes Someone An Alcoholic?

When someone has an alcohol use disorder, their mind and body have become dependent on the substance and will experience withdrawals without it. If you believe that you or a loved one may have alcohol dependency, consider the following indicators:

  • Drinking everyday
  • Using alcohol to cope with negative emotions
  • Experiencing cravings and withdrawal when you don’t have alcohol
  • Needing a greater intake of alcohol to experience its euphoric effects
  • Drinking until blacking out
  • Being unable to limit alcohol intake
  • Alcohol affects relationships

What Percentage Of Alcoholics Have A Mental Illness?

Alcoholism and mental illness commonly co-exist in an individual. Having a substance abuse disorder and a mental health condition is known as a dual diagnosis. In the U.S., approximately 21.5 million adults struggle with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Among those with an alcohol use disorder, nearly one-third are suffering from a mental illness of some kind.

What Mental Illness Do Most Alcoholics Have?

The most commonly seen mental illness in individuals with an AUD include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. We’ll take a closer look at each of these below.

Major Depression

Depression is the most common mental illness found in people with alcohol use disorders. Both alcohol and pre-existing depression can influence the other. Alcohol itself is a depressant, directly impacting the central nervous system. This can lead to a worsening of depressive symptoms. Similarly, people who have a major depressive disorder may use substances, such as alcohol, to cope with the symptoms.

What Percent Of Alcoholics Are Depressed?

Multiple studies have been done on the prevalence of depression in alcoholics. Of these, it was found that 63% of people with AUD experience major depressive disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a mood disorder that causes extreme highs and lows in a person. Drinking any amount of alcohol can cause a flare-up of these symptoms. Those with bipolar disorder often experience depression and anxiety in differing severity levels. When bipolar disorder is left untreated, it’s not unusual to see unhealthy coping with substances like alcohol. This can create an ongoing cycle of unhealthy coping, temporary relief, and an increase in bipolar symptoms, not to mention the risk of addiction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is defined by persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. Despite alcohol being a depressant, it can also increase anxiety in individuals, especially those with pre-existing conditions. 

Approximately 20% of people diagnosed with an alcohol or drug disorder also suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder.  Like other mental illnesses, people with anxiety disorders may search for ways to cope with their symptoms, sometimes turning to alcohol. Alcohol abuse may appear to be a “temporary” solution to challenging emotions, but it will only worsen a person’s mental health in the end.

What Is A Dual Diagnosis Evaluation?

During a dual diagnosis evaluation, a healthcare professional will determine existing mental health conditions alongside substance use disorders (SUD). Narrowing down the exact addictions and co-occurring disorders allows us to create a comprehensive treatment plan that fits the patient’s particular needs. By focusing on both the mental illness and addiction components of a person, a full spectrum of support can be provided to increase long-term recovery.

Choose Harmony Junction Recovery for Long-Term Sobriety

There’s no time like the present when it comes to achieving sobriety. Our Harmony Junction Recovery team can assemble a treatment plan individualized to your specific needs. Reach out today to learn more about our detox program and science-backed therapies.