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Severe Mental Illness Linked to Increased Rates of Substance Abuse

Severe Mental Illness Linked to Increased Rates of Substance Abuse

According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), increased rates of substance abuse have been linked to people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for 2012 indicated that close to 8.4 million people have comorbid mental health and substance use disorders (NIDA, 2014). 
A recent study conducted by NIDA examined 9,142 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder with psychotic features and 10,195 controls. The study concluded that when compared to the controls, people were “four times more likely to be heavy alcohol users . . . 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana regularly . . . and 4.6 times more likely to use other drugs at least ten times in their lives” (NIDA, 2014). In addition, people with a severe mental illness were 5.1 times more likely to daily smokers. According to NIDA, this issue is a paramount concern “because smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States” (2014). 

Interestingly, the study also noted that some of the protective factors oftentimes associated with ethnicity, race, or sex did not apply in patients with a severe mental illness. Dr. Sarah Hartz, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, stated “In the general population, women have lower substance abuse rates than men, and Asian-Americans have lower substance abuse rates than white Americans, but we do not see these differences among people with severe mental illness” (NIDA, 2014). Dr. Hartz was one of the authors of the study. “We also saw that among young people with severe mental illness, the smoking rates were as high as smoking rates in middle-aged adults, despite success in lowering smoking rates for young people in the general population,” she concluded. 

NIDA stated that these new findings highlight the need to improve the understanding of the comorbidity of mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. 



National Institutes on Drug Abuse. (2014). Severe mental illness tied to higher rates of substance abuse. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2014/01/severe-mental-illness-tied-to-higher-rates-substance-use