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Substance Abuse Rates Far Higher in Those With Mental Illness, Report Finds


A new government report finds that rates of substance abuse are far higher in people with mental illness. The report found that one in five adults in the United States—nearly 50 million people—experienced mental illness in the past year, according to Reuters.

Adults with any mental illness in the past year were more than three times as likely to have met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse compared with those without mental illness (20 percent versus 6.1 percent). People with serious mental illness in the past year had a rate of substance dependence or abuse of 25.2 percent.

The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found teenagers who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year had about twice the rate of illicit drug use compared with teens who had not experienced depression—37.2 percent versus 17.8 percent.

Mental illness was more common among women, and among people ages 18 to 25, SAMHSA noted in a news release. The report found five percent of American adults had experienced a serious mental illness in the past year.

The findings come from a survey of 67,500 people ages 12 and up.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Howard Josepher / January 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    If someone self medicates habitually, it is in response to an already existing mental illness or condition. Certainly the condition will worsen by taking illicit medications because the behavior makes the person a criminal. Some conditions may worsen with prescribed medications. A diagnosis of a co-occuring disorder can be made.

  2. Lynn / January 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Many stress that the mentally ill “self-medicate,” but given that serious mental illness strikes at about 19-25, but teenagers often start drug/alcohol abuse earlier, it is very hard to determine the role that substance abuse plays in triggering mental illness. Mental illness may not be diagnosed and young people who have it may be using substances to cope, but one cannot make that determination until substance abuse is stopped. Substance abuse itself affects the brain and can cause depression, anxiety, mania,and even psychosis. If we really want to improve mental health, reducing substance abuse, especially in young people, should be a priority.

  3. Avatar of jb
    jb / January 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Substance abuse is the poison being forced down the throat of a majority of psychiatric victims,so in reality they suffer from post traumatic oppressive ongoing psychotropic stress disorder, adding street drugs is just their way of trying to escape the debilitating psychotropic side effects, unfortunately with added poisons it makes them even more unwell ,and they get sent back for more incarceration and a fresh batch of abuse and psychotropic poisons, then their in despair again and need to escape again, and the wheels keep turning, there’s no escape,because psychiatry wont let them escape, thats been my experience, whats yours.

  4. Fred C, / January 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Three things jump out about this article: 1, There are 320 million people by the latest estimate I heard which is 64 million or 60 million if you use the older figures. 2. The first paragraph says one in five (20%) were mentally ill in the last year, the last paragraph says it is 5%. 3. The second paragraph says the number of mentally ill who are using is 20% the next sentence says it is 25.2%. How can we trust what you are saying here?

  5. Avatar of Howard Josepher
    Howard Josepher / January 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    By criminalizing people who self-medicate their mental health disorders with illicit or ill-gotten legal substances, we exacerbate the problem. A public health approach to the problem would be a better option.

  6. Avatar of Emma
    Emma / January 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I think this misses the point. The truth of the matter is, individuals with substance abuse disorders commonly have co-occuring disorders. Substance abuse is often a way to self medicate uncomfortable symptoms of mental/mood disorders. The two go hand in hand. Integrated treatment needs to be on the forefront of substance abuse treatment. Too many professionals working in the field are not putting appropriate emphasis, nor properly treating co-occuring mental illness.

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