The Importance of Monitoring and Treating Alcohol and Substance Use in Mental Health Care

Author: Chieko Tabata

Date: Jun 6, 2023

Categories: Mental health

Mental health and substance use disorders are prevalent issues that affect millions of individuals in the United States. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a significant percentage of the population engages in substance use, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Moreover, mental health conditions, such as major depressive episodes and serious mental illness, also affect a substantial number of people.

Substance Use and Mental Health:

The NSDUH report revealed that a considerable portion of the population engages in substance use. In 2018, an estimated 164.8 million people aged 12 or older (60.2 percent) used tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs in the past month. Furthermore, approximately 20.3 million individuals had a substance use disorder related to alcohol or illegal drugs in the past year. These statistics highlight the close association between substance use and mental health.

Co-Occurring Disorders:

Individuals with mental health issues are more likely to experience substance use disorders, and vice versa. The NSDUH data indicated that approximately 1.5 percent of adolescents and 3.7 percent of adults had both a substance use disorder and a major depressive episode in the past year. Similarly, an estimated 3.2 million adults had co-occurring serious mental illness and a substance use disorder. These co-occurring disorders require specialized treatment approaches that address both conditions simultaneously.

Impact on Mental Health:

Substance use can have detrimental effects on mental health. Studies have shown that alcohol and drug use can exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions, increase the risk of developing mental illnesses, and hinder the effectiveness of mental health treatments. For example, alcohol and substance use can interfere with medication efficacy, reduce treatment compliance, and contribute to relapses.

Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior:

The NSDUH report highlighted the alarming prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among individuals with mental health issues. In 2018, an estimated 10.7 million adults had thought seriously about suicide, with 1.4 million making a nonfatal suicide attempt. Substance use can significantly increase the risk of suicidal ideation and actions, making it crucial to address both substance use and mental health concerns to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals.

Integrated Treatment Approach:

Given the strong interconnection between substance use and mental health, an integrated treatment approach is essential for effective care. Integrated treatment involves addressing both substance use and mental health conditions simultaneously through coordinated and comprehensive interventions. This approach ensures that individuals receive appropriate support, therapy, and medication management for their specific needs.

Screening and Early Intervention:

The NSDUH data also revealed that a significant number of individuals who need substance use treatment do not receive it. It is imperative to enhance screening measures to identify individuals with co-occurring disorders in primary care, enabling prompt intervention. Early identification and intervention of at-risk individuals can help prevent the worsening of substance use and mental health conditions, improve treatment outcomes, and enhance overall quality of life.

Public Awareness and Education:

Raising public awareness about the relationship between substance use and mental health is crucial. Educating individuals about the risks, signs, and symptoms of both conditions can promote understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage individuals to seek help. Community-based initiatives, educational campaigns, and outreach programs play a vital role in disseminating accurate information and promoting mental health and substance use awareness.

Reference: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP19‑5068, NSDUH Series H‑54). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

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