Does alcohol addiction cause mental illness?

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. In fact, many people who attend rehab for alcohol addiction often get diagnosed with a dual diagnosis – that is, they’re suffering from an addiction as well as from a mental health concern.

Understanding which came first, however, is like asking whether the chicken came before the egg – it’s a difficult thing to decipher.

Do people drink to escape their mental health concerns, or do they suffer mental illness as a consequence of drink?

In this blog, we try to tackle this question and determine whether alcohol addiction does in fact cause mental illness.

What does alcohol do to the brain?

86.3 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.

It is the most common drug consumed by the public today. But, while alcohol is socially acceptable, in the wrong quantities it can do a lot of damage.

Over time, alcohol starts to disrupt brain chemicals (known as neurotransmitters), which interfere with things like the hormone system, the nervous system and more.

As a person continues to drink excessive quantities of alcohol, the body’s chemical makeup changes shape entirely. For instance, alcohol may:

  • Interfere with the absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is an important brain nutrient.
  • Result in changes to metabolism, heart functioning, and blood supply.
  • Have a toxic effect on the central nervous system (CNS).
  • Can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain.

Consequently, a dependence to alcohol can be disastrous to a person’s mental health.

Without a properly functioning central nervous system (and without vitamin B1), a person can become more vulnerable to psychiatric concerns like stress, anxiety and depression.

How does this affect mental health?

The hormonal and nervous systems form the basis of mental wellness. By creating an imbalance with alcohol consumption, a person’s psyche begins to change, and mental health issues can form.

These psychiatric symptoms are contingent on the dependence of alcohol, and also how vulnerable a person was when they consumed alcohol.

On the contrary, if an alcoholic decides to stave off alcohol, it can also cause a hormonal imbalance. Because an alcoholic depends on alcohol for regular hormonal functioning, removing alcohol entirely will limit this hormonal production, which can lead to dips in things like endorphins and dopamine.

Without these two chemicals, people can easily slip into depression and low self-esteem.

But was the mental illness there before the alcohol was?

It’s a tough question to answer. Many people begin drinking for fun. In the right quantities, it’s a harmless recreational activity.

However, others turn to alcohol by means of escaping hardship they may face in their life.

In the latter instance, it’s likely that mental illness pre-exists alcohol dependence.

Financial difficulty, relationship troubles and job loss can all trigger feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and stress. To handle these mental health concerns, people begin to rely on the euphoric feelings associated with drinking alcohol.

However, mental health concerns can occur with alcoholism, too. These are conditional to how dependent a person is to alcohol.

Like many other drugs, withdrawal symptoms can arise in an alcoholic, which mimic common mental health conditions that may have existed prior to addiction.

The saving grace with alcoholism and mental health

There is one saving factor with alcoholism and mental health, however.

With the right professional help, a person who overcomes their alcohol addiction for good will begin to see improvements in their mental health, too.

Even if mental health issues pre-existed an alcohol addiction, the problems faced by an alcoholic are often caused because of alcohol itself.

The challenge, then, is finding an accredited, trustworthy and expert facility where each person is treated holistically, both for their addiction and for their mental health condition.

This gives an addict the best chance of regaining control over their mental health and conquering their addiction for good. Only then can someone successfully turn a corner into a happier, healthier life.

To find out how Tikvah Lake Recovery can help with your co-occurring disorder, contact one of our experts today.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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