Alcohol and other drugs and mental health

This Alcohol and Other Drugs and Mental Health section provides an overview of the relationship between alcohol and other drugs and mental health problems, highlighting the need for integrated prevention, early intervention, treatment and management of these issues.

It is particularly relevant to health professionals including GPs, alcohol and other drug (AOD) workers, mental health clinicians, and community care workers. The intent is to support the need for a collaborative approach to mental health and alcohol and other drug comorbidity conditions which are prevalent and should be considered in tandem to support recovery.

The relationship between alcohol and other drugs and mental health

The relationship between alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and mental health conditions can be mutual.1

Individuals may experience co-occurring mental health and substance use problems and may present to health professionals with one, or both, at any stage.

  • At least 55 per cent of people experiencing an AOD use disorder have a co-occurring mental health condition.
  • 60 per cent of people with a mental health disorder are also experiencing AOD dependence.2

Co-occurring AOD and mental health conditions – both medically diagnosed (known as a ‘dual diagnosis’) and non-diagnosed - can lead to poorer outcomes for that person.1

For some conditions, including alcohol dependence and depression, co-occurring mental health and drug disorders can be bi-directional, i.e.: alcohol dependence can arise from using alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety and depression; while, depression can be an outcome of alcohol dependence.1

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The nature of this bi-directional relationship, and how it affects people, is different from person to person – and may change over the course of their life.

A person experiencing a dependence on alcohol may start to experience alcohol-related issues in their personal and work life.3 The end of a relationship, or the loss of a job, may result in symptoms of anxiety and depression on top of the existing dependence on alcohol.4

A person’s physical health can also be affected. For example, alcohol can disrupt sleep,5 which may contribute to some symptoms increasing.6 Nutrition and exercise could also be affected, contributing to poorer health.

People with both AOD and mental health issues also face higher rates of relapse and subsequent hospital visits, imprisonment, unemployment, and family difficulties.1, 7

They are also are more likely to be a victim of violence than the general community, particularly if their mental health condition is severe, and they are more likely to experience homelessness and discrimination.8, 9

Stigma is attached to both conditions and further marginalises people who may avoid seeking help, due to the real or perceived attitudes of others.8

Alcohol and other drugs and mental health challenges are not distributed equally throughout the population.

Many people are vulnerable due to genetic, environmental, social or biological factors over which they have little control: they may experience a severe difficulty or trauma in their life or face chronic personal, social, or economic problems. 

Related tags from the Drug Information Directory

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