July 2018 - Hader Clinic Queensland

Are Mental Health and Addiction Connected?

People who abuse alcohol or drugs are much more likely to develop mental illnesses than those who don’t. And people with mental illness are also prone to developing drug or alcohol addiction.

Unfortunately this leads to a cycle in which each condition makes the other worse and it can be hard to understand cause and effect.

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, showed more drug users were being diagnosed with, or treated for, a mental illness than ever before. Of people suffering from ice addiction 42.3 per cent had been treated for or diagnosed with a mental illness.

This high rate of comorbidity between drug addiction and mental illnesses highlights the need for an integrated approach to addiction treatment that identifies and evaluates each disorder at the same time and provides the appropriate treatment.

The chicken or the egg?

There is a difficulty in determining what issue precedes the other – in many cases, trauma or depressive disorders can trigger substance abuse and on the flip side, substance abuse causes mental health issues, such as the psychoses that result from excessive use of methamphetamine.

Often they occur in tandem, and combined, exacerbate the effects of each condition. For example, schizophrenic episodes are heightened when combined with ice or cannabis use.

According to drugabuse.gov, several pathways appear to influence the connection between mental illness and addiction to illicit drugs.

Genetics and environment play a role

For both conditions, there are common risk factors which can either contribute to drug addiction, mental illness or both. Drug addiction related illness and other mental illnesses are caused by a blend of overlapping factors. These include both genetic and epigenetic vulnerabilities and direct environmental issues such as repeated exposure to stress and trauma, especially in developmental stages of life.

From a genetic standpoint, several genes contribute to the risk of developing both mental illness and substance use disorders. For example, some genes influence the actions of the chemical messengers within the brain, neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are directly affected by drug use. They behave dysfunctionally in mental illness.

Certain mental illnesses predispose people to drug abuse

Some types of mental illness can predispose an individual to developing a drug addiction.  A common theory is that individuals will use drugs to self medicate as a means of dealing with their mental illness.

Individuals who develop mental illness often display altered neurotransmitter pathways, which can enhance the rewarding affect of drugs. For example, studies found increased craving symptoms for alcohol amongst patients with an ADHD diagnosis. Schizophrenics are five times as likely to smoke cigarettes as those without a mental health disorder according to statistical data collated by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Drug abuse can cause mental illness

On the flip side, substance use and drug addiction can contribute to the development of mental illness. Drug abuse can affect the same areas that are affected by mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and it has been suggested that drug use can trigger an individual predisposition to acquiring particular mental illnesses.

Highly intensive treatment of addiction and mental health issues results in better outcomes

A study undertaken by Chen et al clearly demonstrated the link between high intensity programs and superior outcomes for both mental illness and substance use disorders for patients suffering from addiction and mental health issues.

The Hader Clinic’s Dual Diagnosis Program

Our ninety day residential addiction treatment program includes the Dual Diagnosis Program. Dual diagnosis refers to the diagnosis, and treatment, of both the addiction and any mental health disorders. It is imperative both are treated for the best possibility of long term recovery.

Our qualified and accredited staff and health professionals, such as psychiatrists, who are experts in both mental illness and substance addiction provide intensive treatment and comprehensive support for dual diagnosis patients. We are the only ACHS accredited private rehabilitation facility in Queensland, which ensures the highest standard of care for yourself or a loved one.


  1. Baigent M. Managing patients with dual diagnosis in psychiatric practice. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012;25(3):201-205.
  2. Chen, Shuo & Barnett, Paul & M Sempel, Jill & Timko, Christine. (2006). Outcomes and costs of matching the intensity of dual-diagnosis treatment to patients’ symptom severity. Journal of substance abuse treatment. 31. 95-105. 10.1016/j.jsat.2006.03.015.
  3. National Institute for Drug Abuse: (US)
  4. Seitz A, Wapp M, Burren Y, Stutz S, Schläfli K, Moggi F. Association between craving and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms among patients with alcohol use disorders. Am J Addict. 2013;22(3):292-296.

I’m Indigenous, Empowered And Now Drug Free

While alcohol and cannabis are still the two most abused substances in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in recent years there has been an escalation in the use of the methamphetamine drug ice in regional and remote areas of Australia and there has been a significant increase in Indigenous people undertaking rehabilitation for ice addiction.

Joanne, whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality, is an Indigenous Australian from the Yamatji tribe in Western Australia, who is currently undertaking our 90 day residential addiction treatment program for ice addiction. Wishing to remain anonymous, Joanne, as part of her recovery, wants to start to share some of her experiences that led to her addiction.

Hailing from Geraldton, Western Australia, Joanne is part of a large extended family, which is normal in Indigenous circles.

Joanne’s mother was part of the Stolen Generation – she was taken from her family between the age of 5 and 18 years and experienced a tremendous loss with her culture and native language, Wajarri, being taken from her.

Joanne’s father was Caucasian.

Growing up, Joanne says she struggled with being “in between” Indigenous and Caucasian – she is not dark skinned and her Indigenous heritage is not immediately apparent.

This feeling severely impacted upon her confidence. Joanne says that she found it hard to fit in.

“I just wanted to belong, to fit in. I would do anything to please people,” she says, “and that’s where I think it was easy for me to start using drugs. I was also exposed to a lot of racist behaviour, which dented my confidence and made me feel less than worthwhile.”

Joanne started working with the Australian Navy enforcing border protection, a job which she found extremely stressful. She also found herself within a racist navy culture. She found she could deal with the stress by drinking.

Drinking for Joanne was a means to numb the pain from the racism and sexism she experienced on a daily basis, and a way to fight her increasing feelings of diminishing self worth.

Following a car accident, Joanne’s drinking escalated and she started using and abusing ice. Her excessive drinking led to her discharge from the navy, which led to a further downward spiral into abusive relationships and heavier ice use.

“My abusive relationships reflected that I lived to please people. I was ashamed to be myself. I didn’t feel like I fitted in – ever,” she says.

Joanne is currently sixty days into her residential program at the Hader Clinic QLD and says that the rehab program has been eye opening and she says that she’s learning to put her needs first rather than being a doormat for others.

She’s also determined that as she recovers from her addiction to call out the racist comments that had become so commonplace in her life that she didn’t recognise them and to educate others about Indigenous cultures.

She’s also looking forward to piecing together her extensive family tree in the hopes of preserving and understanding her cultural heritage in the years to come.

As Joanne progresses with her residential rehabilitation program Joanne looks forward to sharing more of her experiences as she continues to identify the causes of her addiction and learns how to not let them be triggers for relapse.

Are you Indigenous and experiencing racism? Get support.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who has experienced racism, talking to someone about your experiences can help you stay strong. If you’re going through a tough time or are concerned about someone close to you, the beyondblue Support Service can help.

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