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The Connection Between Substance Use and Mental Health

Mental and substance use problems are common and can affect people from all walks of life. Sometimes substance use occurs as a result of a mental illness, while other times the opposite can be true. While these illnesses are serious and sometimes recurring, they are treatable and many people will make a full recovery. National Alcohol Screening Day aims to increase awareness and provide anonymous screenings for substance use, including alcohol, to connect more people with treatment.

Substance use disorders occur when an individual repeatedly uses alcohol or drugs. This repeated use can lead to health problems, relationship trouble, impairment, and disability. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 21.5 million Americans ages 12 and older (8.1%) were classified with a substance use disorder in 2014. Of those, 2.6 million had problems with both alcohol and drugs, 4.5 million had problems with drugs but not alcohol, and 14.4 million had problems with alcohol only.

For those who struggle with substance use, mental illness can also be an issue. According to SAMHSA, in 2014, 7.9 million adults struggled with both substance use and mental illness. In some cases, side effects from drugs can cause mental illness symptoms. For example, alcohol itself is a depressant and can exacerbate pre-existing depression or even bring on symptoms for the first time. Further, alcohol and other drugs can lead an individual to do or say things they may later regret, causing strained relationships, trouble at work, and health problems. The effects of these incidents can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

In other instances, those who already struggle with mental illness often try to self medicate with alcohol and drugs. Substance use may temporarily ease pain from mental illness. However, without professional treatment, self medication can lead to more problems and potential addiction.

For both substance use and mental illness, early intervention is important. A recent study published in Health Services Research showed that that timely screening and treatment of mental health problems may prevent the development of substance-use disorders among those with mental disorders.

National Alcohol Screening Day, April 7th, raises awareness about alcohol and substance use disorders, while providing the public with screening and treatment resources. To help individuals assess their drinking and substance use patterns, the nonprofit, Screening for Mental Health, is promotingĀ The online resource offers anonymous screenings for alcohol and substance use as well as resources for treatment and recovery. Mental health screenings were created recognizing the need for people to identify early symptoms of substance use and mental illness.

While mental health and substance use disorders are common and can be serious, they are treatable. Screenings are an effective first step and follow-up with a mental health clinician can make recovery possible.