Substance Abuse More Common with Mental Illness

Adults with mental illness are at higher risk for developing alcohol dependence, according to a new report. The report, which was released last week, was based on the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by SAMHSA.

The Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

The results of the survey showed that adults with mental illness are four times more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol, and that an increase in the severity of mental illness means an increased risk for alcoholism. In fact, the rate for alcohol dependence among adults with serious mental illness is 13.2%.

Mental illness is often accompanied by substance abuse, and one condition can bring on the other. People with mental illness may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain of mental illness. On the other hand, it is possible that substance abuse over a period of time can cause mental illness.

Dual Diagnosis

Individuals suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse face many difficulties. Even though co-occurring disorders like this are common, the concept of treating both disorders at the same time is still fairly new. Some treatment professionals are still unable to or unsure of how to treat someone with a dual diagnosis. Coordination of care can be difficult, as many facilities will treat one or the other, but not both conditions. Getting the right insurance coverage can also be difficult.

Even with all the complexities of treating someone with a dual diagnosis, the ones that are correctly diagnosed are the fortunate ones. Many people with a substance abuse addiction fail to fully recover because they have underlying mental illness along with it. Many other people that suffer from mental illness are also hiding a substance abuse problem that family and therapists are unaware of.

Creating Awareness for Co-Occurring Disorders

The SAMHSA survey and the resulting Data Spotlight from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality does a lot to draw attention to the seriousness of co-existing conditions. “Mental and substance use disorders often go hand in hand. This SAMHSA study adds to the evidence of this connection,” SAMHSA administrator, Pamela S. Hyde, JD, said in a statement. “Co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders are to be expected, not considered the exception. Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of these behavioral health conditions are often missed by individuals, their friends and family members and unnoticed by health professionals. The results can be devastating and costly to our society.” (1)

The hope is that doctors, therapists, and family and friends are more aware of the risk of substance abuse among those with mental illness. Treatment professionals that work with people with substance abuse problems need to also be aware of and screen patients for mental illness and coordinate treatment if necessary.

Early intervention offers the most hope for recovery for someone with a dual diagnosis. Someone in need of treatment should find a treatment facility that is equipped to help patients with both disorders, in order to have the best chance at recovery.


(1) Alcohol Dependence More Likely Among Mentally Ill

Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Report Links Alcohol Dependency Rates To Mental Illness

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