- Powered by American Addiction Centers

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Crisis Guide

Recognizing a substance abuse problem and pursuing addiction treatment can seem overwhelming. Although it may be difficult to know where to start on the path toward recovery, this crisis guide can provide answers to your questions.

What is a Crisis?

In psychological terms, a crisis refers to a short-term, substantial change in one’s mental health functioning or circumstances. The individual might experience drastic changes in their thoughts, mood, or behavior. During a mental health crisis, a person exhibits behavior that prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community. They may be at risk of hurting themselves or others.7

Crises often involve feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. During these times, people need support from family, friends, and professionals. Many situations can lead to a mental health crisis, including:7

  • Home or environmental stressors: Including changes in relationships, death of a loved one, conflicts with loved ones, trauma.
  • Social or work stressors: Including worry about upcoming projects, feeling misunderstood by teachers/co-workers/supervisors, discrimination.
  • Additional stressors: Including experiencing community violence or natural disasters, changing medication prescriptions or dosages, the use or abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Crises may coincide with alcohol or drug abuse. Deteriorating mental health can lead to substance use, and the reverse is also true: substance use can negatively impact mental health. For someone who is struggling with drug or alcohol use, a crisis may be an indicator to family or friends that they have hit what’s often called, “rock bottom,” or in other words, their lowest point.8


Addiction is a treatable medical disease where a person engages in compulsive behavior such as the use of drugs or alcohol despite harmful consequences. It changes how the brain works.1,9 These changes may impact both an individual’s behavior and cognitive function, leading to moodiness, memory loss, or even trouble processing information and making decisions, and these changes can last for a prolonged period of time.1

Symptoms and Signs of Addiction

Symptoms or behaviors of drug or alcohol addiction may include:2,10

  • Needing more of the substance to have the same effect.
  • Experiencing strong urges for the substance.
  • Using more of the substance over a longer period of time.
  • Failing in work, school, or family responsibilities.
  • Using the substance despite consequences in your personal, academic, or professional life.
  • Taking risks to obtain the substance, including stealing.
  • Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance.
  • An inability to stop the use of the substance.
  • Going through withdrawal symptoms if you do attempt to stop.

Is My Loved One Experiencing a Crisis or Addiction?

While there are not always warning signs of a mental health crisis, there are various warning signs that may reveal that someone is going through a mental health crisis. These may include:7

  • Increased energy level or the inability to stay still.
  • Unable to perform daily routine including bathing, dental hygiene, changing clothes.
  • Rapid movement into feeling depressed or withdrawn.
  • Rapid mood swings.
  • Isolating self from friends, family, work, school.
  • Abusive behavior toward self or others.
  • Paranoia.

When it comes to addiction, it can be difficult to recognize signs of a loved one’s drug or alcohol use. Signs of substance abuse may include the following:2

  • Health issues: Lack of motivation or energy, weight loss/gain, red eyes.
  • School or work problems: missing school or work often, losing interest in work or school activities, a drop in grades or work performance.
  • Change in appearance: indifference toward hygiene, clothes, grooming.
  • Change in behavior: efforts to keep loved ones out of their room/office/home, keeping secrets about where they are going/what they are doing/and who they are doing it with.
  • Money problems: borrowing money without sufficient reasons why, missing money, missing items from home.

Additional signs may include a loss of interest in passions and hobbies, mood swings, depression, missing important commitments, and prioritizing substance use over other obligations.2,3

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Options

Addiction and substance use disorders (SUDs) are treatable. When a SUD co-occurs with other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, it is considered best practice to address both a patient’s physiological dependence on drugs or alcohol concurrently with any co-occurring mental health disorders they are dealing with.4

When you begin alcohol or drug addiction rehab, the following treatment approaches may be involved:4-6

  • Detox: This is the process through which the body clears itself from drugs or alcohol. Detox helps patients by managing acute and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms that occur with the stopping of drug use. It does not address the psychological, social, or behavioral problems connected to the addiction and should only be treated as a first step in the recovery process.
  • Medication: During detox, side effects that result from withdrawal may be unpleasant or even potentially fatal, so medication may be prescribed to manage those symptoms. Medication may also be used to reduce drug cravings.
  • Therapy: Behavioral therapy—individual, group, and family—is typically used in addiction treatment. Patients will likely talk with a counselor/therapist about their mental health concerns and addictive behaviors. Sessions may also involve developing skills to resist drug or alcohol use, improving problem-solving skills, discussing the patient’s motivation to become/stay sober, figuring out strategies for dealing with relapse, etc. Group therapy and involvement with other groups with those who are also in recovery provide patients with a better chance at continued recovery.
  • Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment facilities allow patients to live in the facility and receive support, monitoring, and care 24 hours a day. It is typically better for individuals who do not have stable, supportive home environments, are at a greater risk of relapse, or have greater severity of addiction to one or multiple substances.
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment allows patients to live at home while receiving treatment.  The minimum time spent in outpatient is 9 hours per week, typically does in three 3-hour sessions. It is often recommended for individuals who have a stable work/home life and solid social support networks. Treatment typically involves individual and group therapy, and may also involve prescribed medication.

The insight into your behavior and the coping skills that you learn during treatment are tools to incorporate into your life after rehab. Practice these things in the real world, and talk to friends, family, or another professional about them. Attend mutual-help groups (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) that provide you with support and a judgment-free environment. Beginning to recognize these patterns—with self-compassion—is a great first step.

How Long Does Rehab Last?

The length of time that is spent in drug or alcohol addiction treatment varies, but there is evidence indicating that treatment is most effective when it takes place over a longer period of time. In order to achieve long-term sobriety or reduced use of the abused substance, many patients need at least 3 months of continued treatment.4 Your treatment plan will also include an aftercare component, where skills learned during treatment can be reinforced. This could be one or a combination of many things, from individual counseling to attending mutual-help groups to self-care strategies like regular exercise or daily mediation.9

There isn’t 1 treatment strategy that works for every patient, and it is imperative that a patient’s treatment plan is assessed and adjusted regularly.4 Individualized treatment plans that are developed after a professional assessment in conjunction with the patient, and are later adapted or adjusted as needed during treatment, can provide patients with a greater chance at sustained recovery post-treatment.

How Do I Get Help for Addiction?

Acknowledging your SUD and pursuing treatment for it can be very difficult. But, while it is challenging, remember that recovery is possible, and you can achieve the clean, healthy, and happy life you deserve.

Help is available to you to begin on your path toward recovery. Call one of our admissions navigators at . They are here 24/7 to provide you with the guidance, information and support you need to achieve better health and a life free from unhealthy drug and alcohol use.

Worried about being able to afford rehab? Find out what your insurance covers by clicking here or filling out the form below.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is an addiction?
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2017). Drug addiction (substance use disorder).
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are some signs and symptoms of someone with a drug use problem?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Principles of Effective Treatment.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Types of Treatment Programs.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  7. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). Navigating a mental health crisis: A NAMI resource guide for those experiencing a mental health emergency.
  8. Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  9. American Society of Addiction Medication. (n.d.). Definition of Addiction.
  10. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.