Although the link between substance abuse and mental illness has been well documented, many fail to recognize the presence of a dual-diagnosis disorder in themselves or a loved one. Whether they’re unable to see that their substance abuse and mood disorders are related or they’re unwilling to admit that a problem exists at all, millions struggle with addiction and co-occurring mental illness each year without getting the help they need. The National Association of Mental Illness estimates that of the roughly 20 million Americans suffering from addiction, 53 percent suffer from at least one serious mental illness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health reports that nearly eight million people suffer from some sort of dual-diagnosis disorder.
A report recently published by JAMA reveals a tragic, albeit unsurprising, correlation between the widespread reduction of mental health treatment resources and the collective increase in suicides across the country. The authors of the paper, which was published on November 3, 2016 on the JAMA website, asserted that the decline in access to non-forensic beds (those accessible to patients outside the criminal justice system) is contributing to the risks of violence, incarceration, homelessness, premature mortality, and suicide among patients with psychiatric disorders. They also assert that a “safe minimum” number of psychiatric beds is required to prevent or mitigate suicide attempts.
When an individual engages in prolonged and untreated substance abuse, it’s only a matter of time before abuse turns to addiction if there’s no action taken. The brain undergoes dramatic changes to the point at which everything the individual values and enjoys takes a backseat to their pursuit of drugs or alcohol. On the bridge from substance abuse to addiction, however, there is a stretch of territory in which patients and their loved ones may find themselves asking: “Am I really addicted?” While this may seem like an easily answered question, there are a variety of factors that ultimately inform the diagnosis and help substance users and their families determine the next step in care.