Recovery Month: Breaking the cycle: How mental health affect opioid addiction risk and how opioid addiction impacts mental health

close up of a hand handling prescriptions pills as a concept

Each September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) asks the nation to observe National Recovery Month increase awareness and understanding of mental illness and addictions, as well as celebrate people in recovery from these conditions.

This month, we’re focusing on increasing awareness and understanding of the opioid crisis. Being prescribed painkillers might seem like any other medical situation, but unfortunately, there are substantial risks of addiction that were overlooked for millions of Americans who were prescribed opioids. Once the dependency is formed, those with mental health risks were substantially more vulnerable to addiction. Once the addiction is formed, mental health issues begin to make it harder and harder to break free. By increasing our understanding of the problem, we can begin to disassemble the chains of addiction.

Mental health and addiction risk can substantially affect how likely you are to develop an opioid addiction. While there is never an absolute answer to whether someone will become addicted to opioids, your mental health plays an important role. Working to maintain or improve your mental health is a lot like physical exercise: with consistent effort over time, you can improve your ability to respond to stress. But even the best possible mental health does not guarantee you won’t fall victim to addiction.

And once someone is addicted to opioids, the stress on their mental health can lead to issues, increasing their vulnerability to opioids. As opioids are used over time, the brain becomes more and more dependent, and less able to cope without it. Eventually, opioids are no longer used to create a “high” but to feel “normal” This decrease in mental health fuels further addiction, locking the person into an accelerating path of isolation and dependency. 

The best way to break this downward spiral is to approach solutions from both ends. Encouraging patients to ask for non-opioid painkillers and requesting smaller prescriptions of opioids can help reduce the number of people at risk of developing an addiction. Supporting your local treatment centers and helping people make the first step can begin the path to recovery. Just remember, the best way to break the cycle is with the help of someone like you.