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Understanding Alcoholism as a Mental Disorder

By March 28, 2019 February 5th, 2021 No Comments
Understanding Alcoholism as a Mental Disorder

While communities throughout the country suffer the high burden that alcoholism imposes on life, families, and the economy, there is yet another toll that often goes unaccounted for. A deeper look into the correlating rise of alcoholism1 and mental disorders2 in the U.S. has helped us recognize alcoholism as a mental health disorder, not just a simple substance addiction.

Alcoholism on the Rise

“Alcoholism” is a common, nonclinical descriptor for alcohol use disorder (AUD),3,4 which affected more than 15.7 million Americans age 12 and older in 2015.5 Alcoholism involves a pattern of problems such as uncontrollable drinking or being preoccupied with alcohol, continually drinking despite the negative consequences, drinking more to maintain the same effect, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the drinking stops.6

Alcohol is involved in more than 88,000 deaths per year. In terms of lost workplace productivity, healthcare costs, crime and law enforcement, and motor vehicle crashes, excessive alcohol use in the United States costs more than $200 billion annually. On top of all that, alcoholism plays a role in domestic violence, causes financial hardship for families, impairs decision-making, and escalates child neglect and abuse.7

Mental Disorders on the Rise

Mental disorders/illnesses include a wide range of mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Common examples of mental disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.8

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness and about 1 in 5 youth aged 13-18 have already experienced a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.9 The rise of mental disorders in the US. is especially alarming among teenagers.10

The Link Between Alcoholism and Mental Disorders

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, alcoholism is usually “comorbid” with psychiatric disorders.11 “Comorbidity” means that two or more disorders exist within the same person and they tend to worsen the symptoms or development of each other.12 Studies show that mental health disorders not only cause people to drink too much, but they can also develop as a result of drinking too much.13 Compared to people that are not dependent on alcohol, people with alcoholism face 3.6 times higher odds of developing a mood disorder and 2.6 times higher odds of developing an anxiety disorder.14

A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that 46% of alcoholics had a comorbid case of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and 67% of those people struggled with their anxiety disorder before they developed alcoholism. Over half of the comorbid participants in this study had a history of suicide attempts.15 This only adds fuel to the rising concern that people with mental health disorders don’t receive the treatment that they need, which makes them desperate for help.

Understanding Alcoholism as a Mental Disorder

As alcoholism and other mental disorders reinforce each other, people often get stuck in a downward spiral of addiction and mental illness. Mental disorders can especially wreak havoc for people that go untreated or undiagnosed. Since they don’t understand their feelings or mental illness, they often experience hopelessness, depression, anger, or impulsiveness as a result. These people inadvertently begin to display unhealthy behavior as they attempt to numb their psychological suffering. This process is called “self-medicating” and it usually involves alcohol or illicit drug use.16 As a result of self-medicating, people who struggle with a mental disorder are at a greater risk for alcoholism.

On the other hand, some mental illnesses can be triggered by drinking too much alcohol as it can change people’s brain chemistry. Alcohol increases anxiety and stress even though its initial effects include feeling physically relaxed. People with depression are at a higher risk for social isolation and reduced neurotransmitters17 after drinking episodes, which can worsen depression. Alcohol can also trigger depressive cycles in people with bipolar disorder.18

A Comprehensive Approach to Treatment

As this information about alcoholism as a mental disorder is disseminated and understood more widely, more people are seeking the appropriate treatments that address both issues. There are several medications that are effective for various mental health disorders. However, many people will continue to struggle with alcoholism, which makes it difficult to find total relief from either of their mental health disorders.

A comprehensive approach for treating a mental health disorder that is comorbid with alcoholism should include alcohol addiction treatment in addition to medications for the comorbid mental health disorder.

Schick Shadel Hospital in Seattle, Washington has proven to be the best alcohol addiction treatment program in the country. Patients come to Schick Shadel Hospital from around the country to utilize our proven aversion therapy treatment for addiction. That’s because one year after treatment, 69% of our patients are still sober from their addictions19 and many of them enjoy being addiction-free for the rest of their lives!

Aversion therapy at Schick Shadel Hospital gives people with comorbid mental health disorders the best possible chance for recovering. By effectively removing and treating the alcohol addiction, patients will have a significantly improved chance of long-term relief from their comorbid mental health disorders.



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2 Why Is Mental Illness On The Rise?. (2019). Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

3 Alcohol Use Disorder | Psychology Today. (2019). Psychology Today. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

4 Stages of Alcoholism: Signs of Early, Chronic & End. (2019). American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

5 Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2019). Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

6 Alcohol use disorder – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

7 How Alcoholism Affects Society. (2019). Verywell Mind. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

8 Mental illness – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

9 Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness . (2019). Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

10 The Alarming Rise in Teen Mental Illness. (2019). Psychology Today. Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

Citations (continued)

11 Yang, P., Tao, R., He, C., Liu, S., Wang, Y., & Zhang, X. (2018). The Risk Factors of the Alcohol Use Disorders—Through Review of Its Comorbidities. Frontiers In Neuroscience, 12. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00303.

12 Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. (2019). Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

13 Alcohol and mental health. (2015). Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

14 Alcoholism and Mental Health Problems . (2019). Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

15 Smith, J., & Book, S. (2010). Comorbidity of generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorders among individuals seeking outpatient substance abuse treatment. Addictive Behaviors, 35(1), 42-45. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.07.002.

16 The Vicious Cycle of Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders – (2016). Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

17 DJ, N. (2019). Relationship of neurotransmitters to the symptoms of major depressive disorder. – PubMed – NCBI . Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

18 The Effects of Alcohol Use: Short & Long-Term Physical & Psychological. (2019). Retrieved 25 March 2019, from

19 Elkins, R., Richards, T., Nielsen, R., Repass, R., Stahlbrandt, H., & Hoffman, H. (2017). The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182.

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