The Characteristics of Drug Addiction that Classify it as a Mental Illness

Substance abuse is the repetitive act in which a person consumes a substance (drug or alcohol), in a way that is harmful to themselves or others. The substance may be legal (medication used improperly), or illegal. The person continually uses, despite consequences. Those who abuse substances can usually limit their use or quit without major withdrawal symptoms.

Substance abuse crosses into addiction when the person loses control and the usage is compulsive. Those with addiction continue to use regardless of health, financial, or legal issues. Substance abuse changes the way the brain functions. It affects areas of the brain responsible for compulsivity, impulse control, judgment, and others. The changes in the brain make the person dependent on the substance.

Being dependent means that the person feels as though they can’t function without the substance. It also causes withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit or reduce usage. However, simply quitting the substance (which usually takes help) doesn’t mean the addiction is cured. Since dependency is also physiological, it takes other methods as well, such as therapy.

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Not considered a diagnosis, ‘addiction’ was replaced in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM, along with the American Psychiatric Association (APA), combined substance abuse and substance dependence to create Substance Use Disorder. There are 4 categories of the disorder, including: Social impairment, risky use, impaired control, and pharmacological characteristics (withdrawal, tolerance).

So, what does addiction have to do with mental illness? Mental disorders are patterns of mental functions or behavior that are not considered normal socially or developmentally. These patterns result in suffering or impaired ability to function normally.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows statistics to prove the connection between addiction and mental disorders.

According to NBER, patients with a mental disorder consume approximately:
– 38% of alcohol
– 40% of cigarettes
– 44% of cocaine

People who have been, at some point in their lives, diagnosed with a mental disorder consume approximately:
– 69% of alcohol
– 68% of cigarettes
– 84% of cocaine

Statistics provide evidence that substance abuse and mental disorders are closely related, for a few reasons. Perhaps the most common relation between the two is intended self-medication. Mental health patients often try to medicate themselves in order to make the symptoms less severe.

So, a mental illness is a behavioral or mental pattern that is not developmentally or socially normal, and causes an impaired ability to function normally. A mental illness is a combination of the way a person thinks, acts, feels, and perceives, associated with a certain brain function.
And addiction is the compulsive use of a substance despite social or legal consequences. There is an impairment in functioning that affects perception, impulse control, compulsivity, and judgment. An additional impairment in a specific area of the brain alters a person’s cognition, behavior, emotions, and interactions.

Addiction and mental illnesses, obviously, are ‘one-in-the-same’. They have so many aspects that are directly linked to the other, and when the descriptions are laid out side-by-side – it’s easy to see that they’re nearly interchangeable. The reason that addiction is classified as a mental illness is because it is one. Substance use alters the brain, affects its functions – which is exactly what defines a mental illness. Anyone suffering from an addiction, mental illness, or both – can call the hotline at 800-447-9081 with any questions.

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