Health advice
Substance misuse and mental health
Substance misuse is when you cannot control how you use substances like drugs or alcohol. Read more to learn about symptoms, treatment and where else to go for help with substance misuse.
What is substance misuse?

Substance misuse is when you take drugs or alcohol to excess on a regular basis. These substances can be legal or illegal, and prescription or non-prescription. Substance misuse can vary from occasional use to addiction and is often linked with certain mental health conditions.1

Sometimes using drugs is necessary, like taking medication for illnesses. Some people can also use substances responsibly. But when you struggle with substance misuse, you cannot control your usage.

How is substance misuse connected to mental health?

Studies have shown a connection between substance misuse and mental health conditions. If a person misuses substances, they are more likely to experience mental health conditions and vice versa. This does not necessarily mean that one causes the other.1

Some mental health conditions that have been linked with substance misuse include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia.1
How can substance misuse impact your mental health?

Drug use can change your thinking, your mood and your behaviour. In some cases, drugs can increase problems you may be experiencing with your mental health. Substance misuse may also increase the risk of depression, schizophrenia and other mental health issues.2

Some people may use illicit or legal substances to help them deal with any mental health issues they may be experiencing. This is not recommended as it doesn’t treat mental illnesses and can lead to dependency or addiction.2

What support is available for you?

If you need help, make an appointment with your GP and they will discuss potential treatments options and next steps. Your GP will not judge you and will only share information if it is required by law.3

If you are worried about seeking help from your GP, Well can help you access a range of services online or at your local pharmacy.

You can also reach out to different organisations such as FRANK, the NHS and Adfam for more information and support.

What treatments are available for substance misuse?

Your first appointment with the GP will be focused on the substances you use, your living situation, your work and home life. This is to gain a better understanding of who you are and the potential reasons for substance misuse.

You and your health practitioner will discuss potential treatment options which are personalised to your needs. You may be assigned a keyworker to support you through your treatment process.3

Part of your treatment may involve a form of talking therapy. This can be in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy or guided counselling.4

Cognitive behavioural therapy is aimed at helping you to challenge your way of thinking and your behaviour.1 You may be asked to attend between 5 to 20 sessions.5

Guided counselling is a therapy which helps you deal with difficulties in your life. You will meet a counsellor who will talk to you about your experiences. Your counsellor isn’t there to judge you and you should be able to discuss topics in confidence. Counselling sessions can last between weeks or months depending on your needs.5

Visit your nearest pharmacy

Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist

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Where can I find further support?


The NHS has a variety of online resources for people to view on specific topics relating to substance misuse and mental health. It also links to supporting charities as well as providing helplines to use in urgent situations.


FRANK is an organisation which provides open and honest information about different drugs and what impact they may have on your body. It also provides help and guidance for people who are experiencing substance misuse.


Adfam is an organisation designed to help people access the support they need to overcome issues with addiction. You can find local support groups, online information and support for individuals and families being impacted by addiction.

  1. Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Accessed April 6, 2023.
  2. How drugs and alcohol can affect your mental health. Accessed April 11, 2023.
  3. Drug addiction: getting help. Published January 18, 2022. Accessed April 6, 2023.
  4. NHS talking therapies. Published February 5, 2021. Accessed April 6, 2023.
  5. Types of talking therapy. Published February 5, 2021. Accessed April 11, 2023.

Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar

Review date: April 2023

Next review: April 2026

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