People who suffer from a severe mental illness have a higher risk of substance use, according to new research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, affect about one in four Americans. Many protective factors usually associated with lower rates of substance use do not exist in those afflicted with a severe mental illness. According to Dr. Sarah Hartz, the first author on the study, “In the general population, women have lower substance use rates than men, and Asian-Americans have lower substance use rates than white Americans, but we do not see these differences among people with severe mental illness. 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.”

According to NIDA, estimates based on past studies suggest that people with mental disorders are about twice as likely as the general population to also suffer from a substance abuse issue. More than eight million adults in the USA suffer from both a mental and substance use disorder. More than half of those people never receive treatment.

In the most recent study conducted by NIDA, a little over 9,000 people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder were compared with more than 10,000 people from the general population. Compared to the general population control group, people with severe mental illness were about 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.

People with severe mental illness were more than 5 times more likely to also be daily smokers. Unfortunately, those diagnosed with schizophrenia have a shorter life expectancy than the general population. This could be in part because of chronic cigarette smoking, along with other cardiovascular and respiratory issues.

At the Cove Center for Recovery, we offer dual diagnosis therapy for individuals who suffer from both a substance disorder and a mental health disorder. You can learn more about our dual diagnosis therapy here.

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