The Relationship Between Mental Health and Addiction Relapse

Recovering from addiction is a challenging process, particularly when intertwined with mental health issues.

The relationship between addiction relapse and mental health is complex and often intertwined. Mental health issues can both contribute to and result from addiction, and they can also increase the risk of relapse.

Addiction relapse, a common occurrence in the path of recovery, refers to the return to substance use after a period of abstinence. It's part of the cyclical nature of addiction, affecting nearly 40 to 60 percent of people in recovery, based on the National Institute on Drug Abuse data on relapse.

Relapse is often triggered by various factors, ranging from stress to exposure to the substance.

However, with the right treatment and strategies, people can sustain recovery and improve their overall mental wellbeing. Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between addiction relapse and mental health.

Understanding Addiction Relapse

Understanding the connection between addiction relapse and mental health issues is crucial to getting the right treatment as substance use and mental health challenges often coincide. For example, those with untreated depression and anxiety may find it more challenging to overcome cocaine addiction.

Mental health issues, whether it's depression, anxiety, or others, can significantly shape the journey of addiction recovery, either by worsening the addiction or complicating the treatment.

Here are five key things to consider when it comes to mental health and addiction relapse:

1. Reliance on Substances as Self-Medication

People suffering from poor mental health might use substances as a self-medication method to alleviate their symptoms. This unhealthy coping mechanism can worsen the addiction, making recovery more challenging. The path to sobriety often involves developing alternative coping mechanisms to alleviate mental distress.

2. Amplification of Cravings

Untreated mental health issues can intensify cravings for substances. When people experience mental distress, they might yearn for the temporary relief provided by the substance, thus increasing the risk of relapse.

3. Motivation Issues

Poor mental health can drain a person’s energy, sap their motivation, and make it difficult for them to engage in the necessary steps for recovery, such as attending therapy sessions, participating in support groups, or following a treatment plan. A lack of motivation can hinder progress and make it harder to stay committed to sobriety.

4. Underlying Trauma

Many people with addiction also have underlying trauma, such as past abuse or significant life events. Untreated trauma can exacerbate poor mental health and contribute to the development or continuation of addictive behaviors. Addressing and healing from trauma is crucial for long-term recovery success.

4. Stigma and Self-Isolation

Mental health issues often carry a stigma, leading to self-isolation. This isolation can lead to increased substance use, as the person may feel misunderstood or alone in their struggle. It can also make it more difficult to seek or accept help, which is critical for recovery.

Mental Health Strategies For Sustaining Recovery

Maintaining recovery from addiction requires multi-faceted strategies that acknowledge both the substance use issues and any co-occurring mental health challenges.

Here are specific approaches for sustaining recovery:

Comprehensive Treatment Plans

These plans address both addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. A comprehensive treatment approach addresses all aspects of an individual's health, reducing the chances of relapse. Aside from mental health problems, healthcare professionals will also tackle physical conditions that lead to relapse, like chronic illnesses and pain.

Therapeutic Interventions

Therapeutic interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are invaluable in recovery. CBT can help individuals reframe unhelpful thinking patterns, while DBT focuses on emotional regulation and distress tolerance, all of which contribute to sustained recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

This approach combines medication with behavioral therapies to manage substance use issues. Medication-assisted treatment can make withdrawal symptoms more manageable and help reduce cravings.

Trauma-Informed Care

As mentioned, many people struggling with addiction have a history of trauma. Trauma-informed care recognizes this and tailors treatment accordingly. This approach helps provide a safe and supportive environment for recovery by managing triggers.

Journaling and Self-Help Tools

Writing can be therapeutic as it allows individuals to express and process their deepest thoughts and feelings in a safe, private space. Regular journaling can help manage stress, understand triggers, and track progress in recovery. In addition, there are comprehensive self-help tools such as The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit which empower people to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Supportive Networks

Those in recovery must have access to support systems, which might include family, friends, self-help groups, or professional counselors. These networks provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community that can greatly aid in the recovery process.

Mindfulness Practice

Techniques like mindfulness and meditation can raise one's awareness of their thoughts and emotions, making it easier to manage cravings and avoid triggers. These practices also help foster self-control, which is crucial for preventing relapse.

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is a key recommendation for improving mental wellbeing – it releases endorphins, 'feel-good' chemicals that can help boost mood and help manage cravings.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Quality sleep is crucial for mental health and addiction recovery since the lack of it can exacerbate mental health issues and increase cravings. Developing a consistent sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene can greatly aid mental wellbeing and recovery.

Furthermore, considering the significant impact that proper nutrition and supplementation can have on sleep quality, exploring supplements for optimal sleep could further enhance mental health and bolster recovery efforts. Nutrients such as magnesium, melatonin, and L-theanine, for example, are known for their sleep-supportive roles.

Nutritional Counseling

The relationship between nutrition and mental health is significant, with research suggesting that diet plays a role in influencing mental wellbeing.

Unstable blood sugar levels can impact mood and motivation levels. Consuming excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, which can negatively affect mood and lead to a lack of energy and motivation.

In addition, nutrient deficiencies, such as those of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B12, B6, and D, folate, and minerals like zinc and magnesium, have been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Consuming a balanced diet that provides an adequate intake of these nutrients is important for optimal mental health. Nutritional counseling can support people with this process, aiding their recovery.


Mental health issues and addiction are often intertwined.

Some strategies for overcoming substance misuse while addressing mental health challenges include:

  • Comprehensive Treatment Plans
  • Therapeutic Interventions
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Trauma-Informed Care
  • Journaling and Self-Help Tools
  • Supportive Networks
  • Mindfulness Practice
  • Physical Activity
  • Healthy Sleep Habits
  • Nutritional Counseling

Through the combination of these strategies, people on the path to recovery can effectively manage their addiction, address co-occurring mental health issues, and enhance their chances of sustained recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, we gently encourage you to reach out to a professional to discuss these strategies. It's time to take the first steps toward a healthier and happier drug-free life.

Build Your Mental Wellbeing Toolkit

Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.

If you’re interested in a self-guided program that includes tools from CBT, ACT and more, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit. It's "like 10 therapy sessions in one."

The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit


About Rebecca

Rebecca is the founder of The Wellness Society and author of two fluff-free books, The Framework and Understanding and Healing Trauma.

She's passionate about creating concise and compassionate mental health and wellbeing tools that address the root causes of distress.

Read more about her views on our About page.