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Alcohol-Use Disorder and Severe Mental Illness PMC

Since mental health and substance use disorders are chronic diseases, they require ongoing management of symptoms. Although there isn’t any cure, they can be managed effectively like other diseases. If you or a loved one are dealing with alcoholism, or any other substance or mental health issue, give us a call to talk about our dual diagnosis treatment centers and how we can help you today. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and progressive condition in which you are unable to control or stop drinking despite negative consequences.

This appears as a person who pathologically pursues reward and/or relief by using a substance, (in this case, alcohol) and other behaviors. It’s a brain problem and it is about the underlying nervous system, not outward actions. Since the 1700s, physicians and researchers have sounded the alarm of alcohol addiction, but it wasn’t until 1954 that alcoholism was classified as a disease by the New York City Medical Society on Alcohol. Before the 1950s, many saw alcoholism as a weakness or flaw in character rather than a diagnosable and treatable disease. In a comprehensive review, Fischer (1990) found that between 3.6 and 26 percent of homeless adults suffered from both a mental disorder and AUD.

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If you’re physically dependent on alcohol and need to stop drinking completely, stopping suddenly could be harmful. In the short-term, drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning, sleep problems, an upset stomach, bloating and migraines. It may make you behave recklessly or aggressively, have an accident or become the victim of violence. People who binge drink are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and are more likely to act on these than other individuals due to alcohol’s effects, which cause poor judgment and other cognitive impairments. Undergoing treatment for AUD can be challenging, and there’s always a risk of relapse.

is alcoholism a mental illness

This group also has histories of trauma and behavioral disorders, deficient social and vocational skills, and support networks that include people involved in alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse or other illegal behavior. At Northbound Treatment, many clients receive dual diagnosis treatment throughout their recovery journeys. This means that any co-occurring psychological conditions are addressed in conjunction with alcoholism. Alcohol-use disorder1 (AUD) is the most common co-occurring disorder in people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Drug & Substance Abuse FAQs

Before it becomes problematic, why do people turn to alcohol in the first place? One is simply its rewarding consequences, such as having fun or escaping social anxiety. Having an impulsive personality plays into the decision to seek rewards despite negative repercussions. Another factor is stress, because alcohol can alleviate distressing emotions. Social norms, such as drinking during a happy hour or on a college campus, and positive experiences with alcohol in the past (as opposed to getting nauseous or flushed) play a role as well.

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and APA approved this classification. For more information about SAMHSA faith-based and community engagement, email If there are any concerns about content we have published, is alcoholism a mental illness please reach out to us at If you are a medical doctor, clinician, or other professional in a field related to this topic and find errors or inaccuracies within this content, please contact us at [email protected].