Addiction and Mental Health


When a person has both a diagnosed mental illness and an addiction, it is referred to as “dual diagnosis.”

Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder can make someone more susceptible to becoming addicted.

This susceptibility may be because the addictive agent provides relief from the emotional pain and/or mental health symptoms they experience.

When someone has dual diagnosis, lay people (and sometimes even professionals) may respond to the initial symptoms that are presented and not be aware of the second issue. That is, helpers may notice the addiction and not the mental health issue or they may notice the mental health issue and not the addiction.

If both the addiction and the mental health issues are not treated together, the likelihood for success is very poor.  Whichever issue is not treated is likely to cause the other issue to reoccur.

It is important for family and friends to accept the need for both the mental health issues and addiction to be treated together. At times, significant others focus on one problem or the other in the belief that one issue is the “real problem.”


Prayer is essential. The person must commit to prayer for grace to overcome. Enlisting other believers to pray is fitting as well. Prayer for the struggling person may involve only family and friends, or it may involve the whole church if sharing is appropriate. James 5:16b, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Accountability and mentoring are necessary for support and awareness. When we know a specific person cares to engage in the struggle with us, we are more committed, and this knowledge also helps increase an individual’s level of awareness of personal responsibility. James 5:16a, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

Church support needs to be present at whatever level is appropriate. The church needs to reject sin and embrace the sinner. At times it may be our tendency to withdraw because addictions can be hard to understand, however, the church family is encouraged to reach out to and support the person without condoning the behavior. 1 Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

In some situations, discipline within the church body (see Matthew 18) is necessary for:

Sinful behavior when it is severe enough, when it brings reproach on the church, or when it continues.

Lack of willingness to accept help, accept accountability, or receive treatment.

Treatment of addiction often involves licensed counselors to help the person understand the nature of the addiction and the thinking/behavior that accompanies it. Good communication between the elder/ministers and the addict’s counselors can help to obtain a better outcome.

The person may need hospitalization for withdrawal, chemical replacement, removal from access or temptation or for intense counseling and teaching. The elder, ministers, and others in the church can assist by visiting the person in the hospital.

The addict’s family needs to feel the support of the elder and/or ministers. Spouses often need to pray and talk with someone. Meeting with the addict’s children to help reassure them of God’s love and the church’s support, may also be beneficial.

If the help and input of an elder/minister is desired by an addict or his family, call the elder/minister directly and inform him of the need. Don’t assume that the elder/minister knows about the need or that he will automatically know how you want him to respond.

Addictions are a difficult area for us to understand and work through. The “mountain” which is created by these issues can seem overwhelming. However, with Gods’ grace, godly help from others, and the determination of the individual involved, this mountain can be overcome as we rest on God’s promise in Matthew 19:26, “…With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”