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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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Why would someone with mental illness use drugs and alcohol?

There are many reasons why people with mental illness might use street drugs and alcohol. Some of those reasons are the same for people who do not have a mental illness. For example, alcohol can make people feel more comfortable around other people. People with mental illness may feel really tense around others because they are afraid or are not good at talking with people.

Sometimes they may try to make symptoms go away by using drugs or alcohol. For instance, they may try to “drown out” the voices by drinking or using drugs. Sometimes they may try to make side effects go away by using drugs or alcohol. For example, they may feel very restless and drink to try to calm down.

People with a mental illness are much more likely than others to have problems with street drugs and alcohol. About 50% of people with a mental illness use alcohol or street drugs. People with both problems tend to have a harder time getting and staying well.

Why is it harder for people with mental illness who use street drugs and alcohol to do well?

It can be hard for the doctor to figure out which symptoms are caused by the drugs and which are caused by the mental illness. Thus, it can be harder for the doctor to treat the person, unless the doctor knows how to treat someone with both problems.

People with both problems sometimes find it very hard to fit in. People with mental illness may not understand about drugs and alcohol problems. People with drug and alcohol problems may not understand the mental illness. It is a good idea to find a treatment program that can treat both problems.

bulletLearn more about dual diagnosis.  
bullet Read a factsheet about dual diagnosis.