One-third of people with a mental illness also have a substance abuse problem, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And that can make treatment difficult.
“Sometimes we cannot be sure of a diagnosis until the substance use has stopped and the drug has been metabolized out of the body,” said Deborah Dukes, Manager of Inpatient Clinical Services in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior.
But the department’s new patient admission procedure helps them to better diagnose and treat patients.
“We’ve expanded on our screening to include more about the patient’s substance use and abuse history, and we incorporate that into their treatment,” Dukes said.
A dual diagnosis – in this case, a substance abuse problem and mental illness – is doubly difficult to treat. Self-soothing behavior, or self-medicating, are common in mental illness as patients turn to alcohol or other substances to cope with stress, potentially obscuring symptoms and exacerbating both problems.
“Some of them don’t realize what they’re doing to themselves. They may self-identify as depressed, but not see the role that substance abuse plays,” Dukes said. “In addition, substance abuse interferes with their mental health treatment, because it can destabilize the drugs they are prescribed so they are not effective at all.”
But the team works to drive each patient toward recovery, which can include detoxification and medical treatment, setting appropriate goals to address both disorders, learning to deal with them at the same time and identifying outpatient resources
Recovery benefits public health and saves taxpayers money, Dukes noted. People with mental illness live, on average, 25 years less than their mentally healthy counterparts, but treatment can extend their lives. And treatment saves money by reducing the burden on the criminal justice system. Every dollar spent on mental health treatment reduces the costs of drug-related crime by four to seven dollars, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
For more information about Recovery Month, call 800-662-HELP or visit samhsa.gov/treatment.