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Do Mental Illness Patients Abuse Substances More Than Others? If So, Why?

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Do Mental Illness Patients Abuse Substances More Than Others? If So, Why?

Do Mental Illness Patients Abuse Substances More Than Others? If So, Why?

Studies reveal that anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns are working. Smoking rates in the U.S. have fallen dramatically. But not everyone is being helped with their substance abuse problems.

Dr. Sarah M. Hartz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is the author of a new study done in conjunction with the University of Southern California that shows individuals with severe mental illness have higher rates of substance abuse.

Unique Treatment For Substance Abuse And Mental Illnesses

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says health professionals estimate that half of the individuals who suffer from a psychiatric disorder also abuse alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Trying to manage a mental illness becomes twice as difficult when it is coupled with trying to also manage a substance abuse problem. Each illness demands its own treatment and must be treated individually for the person to heal completely.

Higher Percentages For Drinking And Smoking

Do Mental Illness Patients Abuse Substances More Than Others-If So, Why

Half of the 20,000 participants in Hartz’s study were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. When the psychiatric patients were compared with individuals from the general public, the psychiatric patients had higher rates of using alcohol, smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana and other drug use.

While 75 percent of the mental illness participants were tobacco smokers, only 33 percent of other participants smoked. Thirty percent of mental illness participants were binge drinkers compared to eight percent of other participants. Fifty percent of the mental illness participants used marijuana regularly compared to 18 percent of the other participants. Fifty percent also used other illicit drugs compared to only 12 percent of the mentally healthy participants.

How Race Plays A Role In Substance Use

In other studies on alcohol and drug abuse, race and ethnicity sometimes determines the prevalence of their use. Some groups are more susceptible to use than others. In this study, all races and ethnicities were susceptible if they had a severe mental illness.

Turning To Substances To Escape Negative Emotions Causing Hidden Problems

When mental illness affects thoughts and emotions, individuals sometimes turn to substance use to escape. Tobacco and alcohol use over the years can cause heart disease, cancer, liver failure and other physiological problems that can ultimately end their life. Dr. Hartz sees these physiological problems as the hidden problems.

People with a mental illness may be carefully watched for any signs of suicidal thoughts but not watched as carefully for emphysema. Because loved ones may be so concerned about immediate tragic events like a drug overdose or suicide, they may miss seeing long-term threats from tobacco, alcohol or other substances.

Hartz notes that mental illness patients have a shorter life span by one to two decades than the average person. This isn’t because of immediate tragedy spurred by their mental illness. Most of the causes are ones like cancer and heart disease that were developing in their body over the years.

Finding A Way To Help, Holistically

Mental health specialists look holistically at their patients. They seek and address all of the problems that are affecting the mind and body of a person with mental illness. Hartz believes that if all specialists were to ask their patients about their tobacco, drug and alcohol use that more patients could be led to a happier and healthier life. Through initial screenings and periodic follow-ups, patients could be monitored for any previous substance use or any new substance use that may develop during their treatment.

Trying the tried and true strategies of smoking and drug intervention doesn’t often work for mental health patients, cautions Hartz. Through her studies she has noticed that mental health patients need their own style of intervention in order to heal. As new strategies arise to combat alcohol and drug abuse specifically in people with mental illness, holistic healing can begin.

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