Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?

People oftentimes characterize drug abuse and addiction with a lack of moral discipline and willpower, but that is not necessarily the case. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests, Addiction is a complex mental illness that alters the Mesolimbic Dopamine System (MDS) in the brain which regulates the body’s ability to feel pleasure. When a drug or alcohol user feels the pleasure of the temporary high, the chemical messenger associated with pleasure, dopamine, floods the MDS, ultimately motivating the user to repeat the actions that brought pleasure. As the individual continues to excessively use drugs and/or alcohol, the brain adjusts by making less dopamine and reducing the MDS’s ability to respond to it. Their tolerance diminishes, ultimately driving them to use more of the drug, and even turning to other drugs, to reach the same high that they initially felt when their tolerance was at its peak.


There is debate as to whether or not addiction should be considered a mental illness. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, but this is a question that should be considered from more than one perspective. Pay careful attention to Merriam-Webster’s definition of MENTAL ILLNESS, but read from the perspective of somebody that may be suffering from an addiction.

MENTAL ILLNESS: any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.


Is your addiction impairing normal psychological functioning or causing you to be distressed or disabled? Is your addiction disrupting normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or just your daily functioning in general? Even in the eyes of an addict, the answer is oftentimes no to both of those questions.

Most addicts genuinely believe that they have their addiction under control. In the same way individuals suffering from other mental illnesses may deny that they have a mental illness, many addicts deny that they have an addiction. Is drug addiction a mental illness? Of course it is. Many addicts don’t reach out for help because they either deny that they have an addiction or are too embarrassed to reach out for help, while some simply don’t want help. None the less, drug and alcohol abuse are both the epitome of a mental illness.


Best Regards,




  1. Medicated Normalcy · February 23, 2017

    I have never thought of drug addictions in this way! That is a really interesting take on it. Dependence on a substance to boost dopamine is very widespread, as indicated by your pie-chart. It makes you wonder if the dependence on substances is becoming hereditary– alcoholism runs in families, do you think we will start seeing similar trends with the other substances?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Daisy · February 23, 2017

    I do think that we will start seeing similar trends with other substances. I do not know if an addiction to a particular substance has the ability to run in families, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is hereditary. The genes children receive from their parents code for everything, including susceptibility to become addicted to something.


  3. tobedetermined · March 2, 2017

    The Merriam-Webster definition was helpful in defining how mental illness can overlap with drug addiction. Is there a debate in the psychological and neuroscience studies about how to categorize it? I saw that the beginning of the definition characterizes mental illness as a broad range of medical conditions, so I wasn’t sure if substance abuse qualifies as a medical condition or not.


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