Addiction and Its Relationship to Other Psychiatric Problems

Mental illness is a common issue. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that close to one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness. Addiction is also a common problem, and sometimes, addiction and other mental illnesses co-occur. Fortunately, psychiatrists like Dr. Mark Stracks of Psy-Visions understand the complex relationship between addiction and other psychiatric problems and can treat them simultaneously.

Drug Abuse, Mental Health, and Connection with Neurotransmitters

Drug abuse and mental health both have a relationship with neurotransmitters in the brain, which could explain why they often co-occur.


Your brain communicates with neurons throughout your body via neurotransmitters – chemical messengers. Some examples of neurotransmitters include serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine. Serotonin affects your mood, while the neurotransmitter GABA calms nervous system activity. Your body releases dopamine as a response to pleasurable events and plays a role in how you think.

Neurotransmitters Involvement in Psychiatric Disorders

Studies show an association between high levels of serotonin and an elevated mood, while low levels of serotonin have been linked to sadness and moodiness. Studies even indicate a relationship between low serotonin and depression. Low levels of dopamine may have a connection with depression. Moreover, GABA imbalances appear to play a role in schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder.

Neurotransmitters Connection with Psychiatric Problems

Drugs and alcohol both affect how the neurons in your brain receive, send, and process neurotransmitters. Heroin, for example, has a chemical structure similar to neurotransmitters. As a result, it can activate neurons. Since drugs like this one only ape the effects of natural neurotransmitters, your brain sends abnormal messages.

Amphetamines and cocaine stimulate your brain to release large amounts of neurotransmitters or inhibit your brain from recycling these brain chemicals like it usually does. This either intensifies or interferes with the communication process between neurons in the brain.

Researchers believe that alcohol imitates the effect of GABA in the brain. Specifically, it binds to GABA receptors and prohibits normal neuron signaling.

Your brain becomes used to these substances affecting your neurotransmitters, and they change the structure of your brain and how it functions. Ultimately, this can have an effect on your psychiatric health permanently.

Which Comes First?

In some cases, mental illness comes first. A person uses the substance to cope with the symptoms of a mental illness, also known as self-medicating. For instance, a person may drink to combat depression or anxiety. Someone who suffers from social anxiety may use a substance to feel less awkward around others. Studies have noted a link between untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse.

On the other hand, a person may develop a mental illness as a result of an addiction. Both anxiety and depression can occur as withdrawal symptoms. Schizophrenia – a disorder that affects the way a person perceives reality – could occur from long-term drug abuse.

Importance of Treating Addiction and Psychiatric Problems Together

As briefly mentioned above, addiction causes changes in the brain, and mental health disorders affect the same areas of the brain. This can lead to a cycle of mental health issues and substance abuse.

By treating them simultaneously, you can stop the abuse of alcohol or drugs, combat the symptoms of withdrawal, and treat mental health issues. This can put a stop to the worsening of previous mental health disorders or those that arose from addiction.

Why Choose a Local Psychiatrist Who Serves New York, NY and Southbury, CT

The relationship between addiction and mental health disorders runs deep, and our psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Stracks, understands this connection well. He knows you can’t successfully treat one without addressing the other and will coordinate a treatment plan with this in mind. Dr. Stracks feels satisfaction knowing he helps the communities he serves tackle a wide range of mental health problems, including addiction.

Book an appointment with Psy-Visions, serving New York City, Southbury, and the nearby areas. Call 718-887-2918 or use our online appointment request form.


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