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The second week of May we celebrate Substance Use Prevention Week. There has been much attention devoted to substance use treatment and recovery, but prevention is a key piece of the puzzle, too often dismissed.

Substance use prevention is a critical public health issue, especially in regards to at-risk groups, such as young people, individuals who have experienced trauma and those who have a family history of substance use and misuse.

In this article, we’ll explain the definition of substance misuse and how it correlates to mental health, plus other common risk factors. These tips and practices can help you or a loved one prevent a mental health condition from spiraling into something worse.

Substance misuse definition

Substance use and misuse are tricky terms that are often used in conversation without clear distinction. Talking about substance use in certain ways can be stigmatizing or perpetuate negative stereotypes, so it’s important to clarify when to use particular wording.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, rather than saying “substance abuse,” it’s appropriate to use the term “substance use” when referring to the taking of illicit drugs, and “substance misuse” when referring to the taking of prescription drugs that are used other than prescribed.  

Substance use risk factors

There’s a common misperception that drug use occurs simply because a person chooses to use a drug without any restraint and subsequently develops tolerance and dependence. In reality, there are many underlying factors that contribute to the occurrence of a substance use disorder, many of them outside of a person’s control.

According to the Mayo Clinic, substance use issues can have numerous stimuli. Addictions can have genetic or environmental roots, such as inherited genes that predispose a person to alcohol or drug addiction or exposure to substance abuse within the family system at an early age.

Substance use and misuse can also be influenced by risk factors like peer pressure, lack of family involvement, introduction to substances during adolescence or taking a more highly addictive drug such as opioids. A dependence on drugs may be more likely for someone who has a chronic medical condition, endures high levels of stress or family conflict or has lived through a traumatic event.

Perhaps one of the most well-researched substance use and misuse risk factors is the presence of a mental health disorder. Mental health issues and substance use disorders frequently occur simultaneously, and the occurrence of one can greatly impact a person’s likelihood of experiencing the other.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of the 20.3 million adults in the United States who had a substance use disorder, an estimated 37.9 percent also had a mental illness. Moreover, of the 42.1 million adults who had a mental health disorder, 18.2 percent also had a substance use disorder.

One of the keys to understanding substance use prevention is recognizing the high rate of comorbidity between mental health issues and addiction. Mental health is a risk factor for the development of an addiction, and taking measures to prevent poor coping through alcohol or drug use is essential for those diagnosed with mental health conditions.

Mental health issues and substance use

The prevailing thought regarding the high co-occurrence between mental health issues and substance use is that individuals who face mental distress turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with negative emotions and experiences. This negative coping strategy may temporarily alleviate or numb mental pain but often results in drug dependency and exacerbated mental health symptoms.

Each person, even those without mental health diagnoses, uses coping to manage difficulties in life. Some of these strategies are constructive and others can be extremely destructive. Turning to substance use and how to cope with mental health can lead to severe outcomes, such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, isolation, dysfunction in daily living, broken relationships, overdose and even death.

Tips for helping a loved one learn how to cope with mental illness

If you or a loved one are challenged with a mental health disorder and struggling to manage the effects, it may be tempting to turn to drugs and alcohol when nothing else seems to work. If you’re in danger of developing a substance use disorder, here are some things you can try.


Attending psychotherapy can be a game-changer in alleviating emotional and mental pain. Numerous methods and programs have been proven to decrease symptoms of disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and so forth.


Medication, combined with therapy, is always a hopeful option for those who are facing mental illness. Medications can balance hormone levels and other chemicals in the body and safely reduce the negative feelings that accompany mental illness.

Understand substance use

Learning about how addiction develops and the potency level of prescription and illicit drugs can help a person understand the dangers of experimenting with substances, even if the usage is only intended to be on a one-time or casual basis. Recognizing the way drugs impact the brain’s reward circuitry can help a person refrain from using drugs even once.

Focus on keeping healthy

Mental health issues can’t be cured overnight, but working to improve your own health is something that can have an immediate impact. If you’re struggling with mental illness and eager to prevent substance use, focus on healthy sleep patterns, eating nutritiously and getting regular exercise.

Seeking treatment before symptoms of mental health escalate to substance abuse

Sadly, substance abuse and mental health commonly exist together. If you’re facing a mental health disorder, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to be proactive about preventing a substance use disorder.

Regardless of how long you’ve struggled with substance use and misuse, you can turn to Silvermist Recovery. Silvermist Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment center in Western Pennsylvania that offers a transformative recovery experience. Contact us to learn more.