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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

by Demarco Moore

May 19, 2023
a licensed therapist administers mental health and substance abuse treatment to a woman

You’re not alone if you’re struggling with substance abuse and mental health. Over 7 million adults in the United States face this challenge, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But here’s the good news: treatment can help. 

This article explores how drug and alcohol addiction can impact your mental health, and how the two issues are related. It also explores whether treating substance abuse and mental health all at once is the best way to go and introduces effective treatments for addiction.

What Is The Relationship Between Mental Health And Substance Abuse?

Studies show that people with mental illness often use drugs and alcohol to cope. About 38% of people with substance use disorders (SUDs) also have mental illness, and 18% of those with mental illness also have substance use disorders, NIDA says. Likewise, substance abuse can make mental health issues worse. 

Sadly, over half of people with both conditions don’t receive professional treatment. Among those who do, some only get mental health care or substance use treatment, and others get both. The reasons for not getting treatment are varied, such as:

  • Not knowing where to find help
  • Cost
  • Stigma

There are also other factors that contribute to substance abuse. Research shows that genetics, environment, and behavior play a role. For example, a person raised around parents who abuse drugs or alcohol is more likely to become addicted. Meanwhile, childhood stress and trauma can lead to drug and alcohol abuse later in life. People with impulsive personalities or who seek thrills may also be more likely to develop SUDs.

Substance abuse can also have negative effects on mental health. Drinking too much alcohol can cause:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems

People with SUDs also have a higher risk of suicide or self-harm.

Should Mental Health And Substance Abuse Be Treated Together?

Treating mental health and substance abuse at the same time can lead to better outcomes for people with co-occurring conditions, or dual diagnosis. Research shows that integrated treatment, which combines medication and behavioral therapies, is more effective than separate treatments in reducing substance use and improving mental health outcomes. Unfortunately, stigma and limited resources often prevent people from accessing this type of care.

However, successfully integrated treatment models prioritize a person’s recovery journey and have been shown to improve outcomes for those with co-occurring conditions, such as SAMHSA’s “Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care” (ROSC) model.

What Is The Most Effective Treatment For Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

The most effective treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) depends on the substance a person uses. Effective treatment is usually customized to match the addiction’s severity level and its impact on the person’s life. It usually involves an all-one-approach that combines the following evidence-based techniques:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Continued care

An integrated, or “patient-centric,” approach provides people with the necessary tools and support to overcome addiction and achieve long-term recovery. Let’s explore some proven and effective treatment options available.


Medications are designed to make it easier for people to stop using drugs or alcohol. They work to:

  • Relieve physical withdrawal symptoms
  • Reduce mental drug or alcohol cravings
  • Restore chemical imbalances in the brain caused by substance abuse

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved several medications to treat addiction. Here are some common examples:

  • Buprenorphine: It helps treat opioid addiction, reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings. You may know it by its brand names: Suboxone and Subutex.
  • Methadone: It’s used in clinics to manage opioid addiction. Methadone eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Naltrexone: It’s available in oral and injectable forms. Naltrexone helps with alcohol and opioid addiction. It blocks both substances’ effects, reducing cravings.
  • Disulfiram: Designed specifically for alcohol addiction, disulfiram causes unpleasant reactions if alcohol is consumed. Disulfiram discourages drinking alcohol.
  • Acamprosate: It helps with alcohol addiction, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms and helping people stay sober.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy focuses on the mental and behavioral factors of addiction. Also known as talk therapy or counseling, licensed therapy professionals work one-on-one to help people:

  • Identify emotional and social triggers that lead to substance use
  • Manage cravings
  • Develop healthy coping skills

Continued Care

Continued care provides ongoing support and services to people who’ve completed addiction treatment. The goal is to equip people in recovery with tools to:

  • Handle high-stress challenges
  • Develop coping strategies
  • Address triggers
  • Stay connected to a supportive community

Here are common examples:

  • Regular check-ins: Scheduled appointments with healthcare providers to monitor progress, address concerns and adjust the treatment plan as needed.
  • Support group meetings: Gatherings with recovery peers, providing a supportive community for sharing experiences, receiving encouragement and learning from others who have faced similar challenges.
  • Medication management: Close monitoring of medication effectiveness, dosage adjustments and addressing any side effects or concerns related to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
  • Therapy sessions: Ongoing counseling or group therapy sessions to address underlying issues, learn coping skills, and develop healthier behaviors.
  • Outpatient treatment: Structured behavioral therapy and support while living at home. Outpatient treatment allows for flexibility and adding treatment into daily life.
  • Sober living arrangements: Sober living homes are special places where people in early recovery live together in a substance-free environment. These homes offer support and help residents practice staying sober while learning important life skills.

What Is The Best Psychological Treatment For Addiction?

The best psychological treatment for addiction varies based on individual circumstances, including:

  • The type and severity of substance use
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Personal preferences
  • Resource availability

Considering these factors allows for a customized and effective addiction treatment plan to address each person’s unique needs in overcoming.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a highly recommended and commonly used treatment for addiction rehab. Effective evidence-based approaches include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment that focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and substance abuse behaviors. CBT, a type of “talk therapy” aims to help people develop coping skills and strategies to resist the urge to use drugs or alcohol. Studies have found CBT to be effective in reducing substance abuse among various populations. These populations may include people with different types of substance use disorders, such as addictions to:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Stimulants

They may also include people with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of counseling designed to help people resolve mixed feelings about substance use behaviors and increase motivation for change. Research has found that MI can lead to significant reductions in substance use.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) combines CBT techniques with mindfulness practices to help people manage their emotions and stress, which can both be triggers for substance use. Studies have found DBT to be effective in treating substance abuse, particularly in people with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Custom, Integrated Treatment for Unique Needs

While these mental health treatments have shown success in reducing substance abuse and preventing relapse, different approaches may work better for other people. Health professionals such as doctors and therapists can help determine the unique needs of each person seeking help and tailor treatment plans accordingly.

Seek Professional Help & Resources

Mental health and substance abuse are complex issues that need research, advocacy and support. Effective behavior treatments like CBT, MI, and DBT are available, but the best approach depends on the person and their condition. That’s why it’s important to find professional support and access local and national resources, like SAMHSA’s National Helpline or a community recovery group. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it’s a sign of strength. Reach out to your loved ones,  a doctor, addiction treatment providers, or therapists for guidance and support. Call 888-448-0302 for confidential, 24/7 help at Landmark Recovery. Together, we can raise awareness, provide resources and support those who need it.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.