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The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

integrated-treatment[image via dualdiagnosis.org]

Behavioral health issues and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand and are referred to as “co-occurring disorders.” Someone who suffers from co-occurring disorders must get the right kind of treatment in order to fully and truly recover  long-term. Researchers have found that behavioral health issues often cause, impact and mask substance abuse, and vice versa.

According to SAMHSA:

  • More than 8.9 million persons have co-occurring disorders.
  • Only 7.4 percent of individuals receive treatment for both conditions, and 55.8 percent receive no treatment at all.


Which Comes First?

Which comes first—substance abuse or the behavioral health issue? The answer depends on the individual. We do know that certain substances can cause changes in brain chemistry. When drugs or alcohol are used in large quantities and/or over a long period of time, they can easily lead to psychiatric/emotional problems. For example, depression, anxiety and psychosis can all be caused by substance abuse.

On the other hand, many people struggle with mental health and eventually turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better. Individuals who use substances to self-medicate can quickly become addicted to the substances.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

“Dual diagnosis” is the simultaneous diagnosis of co-occurring disorders. Because these conditions overlap and affect each other, treatment should always take both conditions into consideration. Full clinical assessments identify and diagnose any co-occurring disorders, and treatment plans must coordinate rehabilitation for both the addiction and behavioral health issues(s). The most effective therapeutic plan is comprehensive and addresses all issues surrounding all conditions.

A Bill to Treat and Prevent Mental Illness

Our country has long struggled with how to prevent and treat mental and behavioral health disorders, and for a long time it was nearly impossible for someone with a psychiatric disorder to receive effective care. A new bill, proposed by Republican Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, would change the way mental health is addressed.

There are many who support the bill’s proposal to expand funding for outpatient treatment and the streamlined payment for services under Medicaid. Others support the bill’s proposal to expand funding for suicide prevention programs, or provide extra support to clinics that meet certain standards of care. The bill would also increase training for law enforcement and first responders so they can better identify and treat individuals with mental illness.

Some are concerned that the bill may jeopardize patient privacy and mandate mental health treatment for certain individuals. But overall, the bill is gaining popularity among lawmakers and many are hopeful it will help more people receive the mental illness and dual diagnosis treatment they need.

“It’s the most comprehensive mental health bill we’ve seen in a long, long time, and that in itself is an accomplishment,” said Keris Myrick, president of the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “I think almost everyone sees things in the bill that are long overdue.”

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