Is opioid addiction a mental illness?

Opioid addiction is a complex issue that involves both physical and emotional symptoms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a brain disease that causes people to engage in compulsive behavior despite negative consequences. When addiction is present in an individual’s life, they may not act or feel like themselves.

How Does Addiction Impact The Psyche?

Addiction can affect the brain in a multitude of ways. Its impact on mental health is a major issue and can sometimes be felt even after substance abuse has discontinued.

Even opioids that are prescribed for pain medication can cause depression if taken over an extended period of time. Opioids belong to the same type of plant that heroin and opium come from and can produce similar effects. While they are capable of relieving physical pain, they can also alter brain chemistry.

Many people feel a sense of euphoria when first using opioids. While it may temporarily relieve depression and anxiety, eventually these feelings will subside. As the body develops a tolerance for opioids, it will take much more of the drug to feel the same euphoric effect as it once had.

Does Mental Illness Cause Addiction?

The causes of addiction are complex and different for every individual. While not every person diagnosed with a mental illness will become an addict, many people with addiction can have a mental condition.

Addiction can be caused by a variety of factors. With opioid addiction, many people became addicted because of a legal prescription that was given to them for physical pain. They may have acquired this through a hospital or from a physician’s office.

Others are addicted to opioids because of the emotional relief it brings them. Those who are diagnosed with depression and anxiety are often more likely to have issues with addiction. Since many addictive substances provide an instant increase in serotonin and dopamine, this can feel like a very effective method for dealing with depression or anxiety.

Can Addiction Create Mental Illness?

Opioid effects can mimic mental illness in some people. This can be an especially difficult problem to treat when doctors may not know if the mental illness predated substance abuse or if the mental illness is a symptom of addiction.

In some cases, substance abuse can cause major mental illness symptoms such as:
-mood disorders
-sleep dysfunction

Opioid abuse can cause many negative mental health consequences to occur during and after addiction. Even when the substance is discontinued, those who were addicted may feel lethargic, sadness, apathy, depression, restlessness, anxiety, and a sense of impending doom. While these symptoms are also symptoms of mental illness, they usually subside once opioid use has ended for an extended period of time.

The Difference Between Mental Illness and Mental Illness Symptoms

Mental illness symptoms that are caused by addiction are not necessarily a life long battle. While somebody struggling with bipolar disorder will likely need medication on a long-term basis, somebody struggling from opioid depression may not. Depression that stems from opioid abuse can get better over time without the need for long-term medication.

In many cases, when opioids are no longer abused, the brain can return to its original functioning before addiction took over. Depending on the original mental health of the addict, the brain may or may not need additional treatment.

Opioid Addiction and The Brain

Opioids are used to change the way a patient perceives pain. By changing the way a person is able to experience pain, both physical and mental health can be temporarily altered. Opioids attach to specific receptors in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord. By increasing the flow of dopamine, opioids can greatly impact our emotions. Somebody who is using opioids over an extended period of time may feel drowsy and a sense of peace or euphoria. When it is used long-term, it can create a physical dependence.

When addiction occurs, the motivation and reward center of the brain is imbalanced. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin can condition the reward signals of the brain to expect a higher level of mood function. When the brain no longer has the same amount of serotonin and dopamine, mood fluctuations are likely to occur. This can cause depression even in healthy brains.


If you think you are suffering from depression or anxiety and are or have been addicted to opioids, getting help is crucial. Trying to beat addiction on your own can lead to a worsening of mental health symptoms as well as relapse. For more information on addiction and mental health, please call us at: 833-497-3808.