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5 Mental Illnesses that Are Often Confused with Addiction Symptoms

When I worked in the treatment field I often found that many people were misdiagnosed with mental illness because of addiction. The problem is that the symptoms of addiction may be misdiagnosed as mental illness. People suffering from substance abuse usually manifest symptoms similar to a mental illness.

When an addict goes to the doctor...

And if an addict gets worried about what is happening to himself, goes to see a doctor, and then fails to tell the doctor about his addiction - well, that’s a prescription for disaster! Can you say, “wrong treatment”? Patients with addictions may present symptoms similar to mental illnesses, and be misdiagnosed as a result. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use impacts many of the same brain circuits that are disrupted in severe mental disorders. The key question is, is it really a “mental illness”? Or is it just addiction symptoms? Doctors have to be careful when making a diagnosis. More drugs, such as psychiatric drugs, do not seem to be the solution for someone who is trying to recover from addiction. The addiction needs to be handled first.

Addiction or Mental Illness

Here is a list of 5 mental illnesses that are often confused with addiction symptoms, or that someone suffering from addiction could be misdiagnosed as:

1. Schizophrenia

The listed symptoms for schizophrenia include agitation, paranoia, violence, hallucinations, weight loss and other behavioral problems. All these are symptoms of drug abuse as well. The illegal drug ecstasy can cause hallucinations, for example. Weight loss is one of the symptoms of the general loss of health that a drug addict experiences.

2. Psychosis

The listed symptoms for psychosis include a loss of contact with reality, false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is, and seeing or hearing things that aren't there. These are the same symptoms that a cocaine and methamphetamine addict exhibits. A drug addict can have a very slim connection with reality bat times, strictly from the drug’s effects.

3. Bipolar disorder

The symptom for bipolar disorder is basically extreme mood swings. Stimulants such as amphetamines or ritalin may send the addict’s mood sky-rocketing, then they fall back to earth. An alcoholic can also display these mood swings. Mood swings like this can be misdiagnosed.

4. Depression

Depression is when you don’t feel happy, or actually less than happy. Addicts often feel depressed when they are feeling withdrawal symptoms, when their body is craving their next dose of drugs or alcohol.


Some of the listed symptoms of ADHD are disorganized work habits, failure to complete tasks, always being “on the go”, often talking excessively, etc. These are all symptoms of various drugs a person might addicted to, such as methamphetamine or ritalin. Drug abuse does not help a person be successful at work!


As with any 'illness' an individual should seek the professional guidance of a medical doctor or addiction counselor to determine the most effective options for treatment. However, make sure if there is an underlying addiction problem, it is communicated so the right help can be gotten.

A drug addict needs a physical rehabilitation of their body. They first have to stop using drugs or alcohol, then they have to get their body healthy again. The body must flush out the toxic residue left by drugs or alcohol abuse. Then a person can address possible causes in their personal lives that led to their addiction. Addiction recovery involves letting drug addicts know that they can go to a rehab program, get help, and get better. A program of detoxification and nutrition to heal the body. Education and training to have them see why drugs do what they do, and the effects drugs cause not only to themselves, but also to their families and friends. Getting properly diagnosed is the key, so that the addict is not sent off down the wrong path.


Health Grades Right Diagnosis: Misdiagnosis of addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Severe mental illness tied to higher rates of substance use

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