addiction/substance abuse defined

Addiction and substance abuse of alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs are not the same things, but they are closely related.

  • Addiction is the compulsive use of a substance regardless of the consequences to yourself or others.
  • Substance Abuse is the overuse of a substance or using it in the wrong way, such as drinking to blackout or using prescription medication for something other than what is prescribed.

While addiction and substance abuse can have detrimental effects, not everyone who abuses substances develops an addiction, but it can be a precursor to becoming addicted.

what comes first, substance abuse or a mental health condition?

connecting the dots

While one may not necessarily lead to another, substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are often linked.

While the exact cause of mental health conditions is unknown, we do know that contributing factors, such as genetics, brain injuries, trauma, certain infections, exposure to toxins, poor nutrition, or the abuse of substances, can lead to mental health conditions.

Women using alcohol or drugs to excess are often “self-medicating” the symptoms of a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition to ease symptoms and cope with challenging emotions. Unfortunately, self-medicating can worsen an underlying mental health condition.

Some warning signs that your use of substances is linked to a mental health condition may include:

  • Drinking or using drugs to cope with unpleasant feelings, control the intensity of your moods, or before you face a situation you find troubling.
  • Consuming substances to “blackout.”
  • Noticing a marked change in your emotions or behavior when drinking or using drugs, such as feeling depressed or anxious, indulging in risky behaviors, or battling unpleasant memories as they present themselves.
  • A family history of mental health disorder, substance abuse, or addiction.
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or otherwise “not normal” when sober.
  • Having a past diagnosis of a mental health disorder.
  • Denying how your substance abuse may be impacting relationships or your professional life.
  • Feeling ashamed that you are challenged by your emotions and/or your substance abuse.
  • Feeling alone or isolated in your everyday life.

The bottom line is that if you feel like you have an addiction, substance abuse problem, or a mental health condition, you probably do.

This is nothing to be ashamed of, and admitting to yourself and others that you may have a problem is the first step. The next one is seeking qualified medical help to help you begin moving forward with your life.

samhsa hotline

SAMHSA is a free, confidential information service is available 24/7/365. By calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357), individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders can find referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations that can help you begin to take the necessary steps toward getting the help you need.

why women face addiction and substance abuse disorders

what got you to this point?

Any number of factors may increase your risk of addiction or substance abuse. The age at which you began drinking or doing drugs, your family history, or the environment you grew up in can all contribute to mental health issues and substance abuse.

Additional factors can include:

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions: Women living with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or PTSD tend to develop an addiction or substance abuse disorder as a way to cope.
  • Domestic violence: Addiction or substance abuse is common with victims and survivors of violence.
  • Sexual assault: According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Regardless of what age a sexual assault occurs, the increased use of substances as a coping mechanism is very high. In addition, many women who experience sexual assault are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and PTSD, which can also contribute to substance abuse and addiction.
  • Race: Women of color are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing discrimination that can influence substance abuse. To compound the problem, they are less likely to seek help from a mental health care provider.
  • Domestic partner relationships: Infidelity. Infertility. Divorce. These are just a few challenges many women face in their relationships with their domestic partners. Substance abuse as a form of self-medicating is common.

If your substance abuse or addiction has reached the point where you just can’t take it anymore, getting help from a qualified mental health professional can begin to help you conquer your substance abuse challenges and the underlying mental health issues that may be linked to them.

how to get help

getting help

if you believe your life is out of control due to your substance abuse, you are not alone

The first step in getting well is admitting to yourself you have a problem, which has likely grown too far out of control to “just stop.” The next step is connecting with a mental health care provider to help diagnose your condition and begin helping you find your path to recovery.

Your journey may take some twists and turns and may take some time, but it is worth it. You’re worth it! To learn more about different mental health conditions and their symptoms, visit the mental health definitions page.

find help near you

The Substance Abuse Treatment Locator is a great place to begin learning about the resources available to you. Click here to learn more.

find recovery & balance here