Is Drug Abuse a Mental or a Physical Issue?

Depressed man looking at the window.

Is drug and alcohol addiction a mental or a physical issue? This is likely the most heated and debated topic in drug and alcohol addiction. When people struggle with a substance abuse habit, it encapsulates them and slowly ruins them, but where did it start? In a mental crisis or a physical craving? And what sector of a person causes addiction to continue? The mental side or the physical side? And when a person finally comes to their senses with the crisis that is their condition and gets help for it, which side must be addressed first? Later on in life, should a relapse occur, was it the physical or the mental side of the habit that caused that relapse to occur?

An addiction crisis is about seventy percent mental, thirty percent physical. While drug and alcohol addiction is, of course, a very different problem one person to the next, that is the best way to show the breakdown of where this problem rests. Seventy percent mental/spiritual, thirty percent physical/chemical.

The Trappings of Addiction

When a person first starts abusing drugs and alcohol, he or she starts this trend because of something personal, something going on in his or her mind, a personal crisis or a “near-and-dear” difficulty that the individual is having a hard time getting a handle on.

People don’t just “become” drug addicts or alcoholics. Even if they are peer pressured into abusing drugs and alcohol, the common denominator behind drug and alcohol addiction is that:

“People abuse drugs and alcohol because of serious, crippling struggles, personal deficiencies, life issues, personal crisis, or other major troubles that the person then uses substances to cope with.”

People abuse drugs and alcohol because of serious, crippling struggles, personal deficiencies, life issues, personal crisis, or other major troubles that the person then uses substances to cope with.

The mental and spiritual side of drug and alcohol addiction is what caused the addiction to begin in the first place, but even more concerning than that, is the fact that those same mental issues and a spiritual crisis will be the reason for a relapse, should a relapse occur. Yes, a mental and spiritual crisis is what causes an addiction, and it is also what causes an addiction to come back long after the person has given up drug use and alcohol misuse.

This is why it is so important when a person struggles with addiction that they go to an inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, to address these issues and to really get a handle on them. When people are able to overcome their drug abuse habits, it is because they actually handled and resolved the issues that caused them to seek out drugs and alcohol in the first place. If those issues should return later on in life, a risk for relapse will be present.

On the physical side of things, when people abuse drugs and alcohol, those substances create dependence in the physiological body of the individual. Due to the chemical composition of most drugs and all alcohols, these substances link up in the body of a user, affecting their physiology dramatically.

As the user’s body becomes more and more dependent on drug chemicals, the body also begins to develop a tolerance to these drugs, another phenomenon that affects them terribly. It affects them terribly because they will have to start abusing more and more substances to get the same high, to experience the same relief, and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The mental crisis may be what started drug abuse, but chemical dependence is what keeps drug abuse going, long after the individual has realized that their habits are actually life-threatening.

At the end of the day, we have to address both the chemical and the psychological, the physical and the mental. It all plays a part, and it all must be addressed. Inpatient addiction treatment centers afford the best services for treating all of the facets of addiction.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.