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Mental Illness and Substance Abuse: A Societal Aberration


There are many ways to make use of the statistic that 53 percent of drug addicts have a serious underlying mental health problem.

You could note that 47 percent of persons with drug addictions do not have serious mental health disorders as an underlying cause. Just from an editorial perspective, this might reveal something about society’s attitudes towards health and recreation. We are a society that lusts for instant gratification. Life is a party. Life is a beach. Is that what we think?

We have underlying anxieties that are considered universal. Men and women frequently go on dates to a place where wine or other liquor is served, because alcohol loosens inhibitions. It serves as a catalyst for relaxing what could be a tense situation. But could there be more effort made to take some of the pressure off of the dating and mating game? After all, various cultures have different approaches to finding a mate and not all of them include having a drink in order to relax. Could we make improvements there?

This bring us back to the 53 percent of drug addicts who have underlying mental health problems. This clearly suggests that drugs are used for recreation to reduce very real, involuntary pain. (No one chooses a mental health problem.) For an even better breakdown of drug addiction statistics, visit
Now consider the stereotypical image of a drug addict. By stereotype, the treatment center Axis Recovery points out, an addict is first thought to be a late-twenties male, poor, washed out, down-on-their-luck, hippy-types and loners. So, how does this explain Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was an enormously popular actor, successful, wealthy and talented, when he died of a heroin addiction at age 46 in February 2014?

Stereotypes are often wrong or misaligned. Some addicts are males in their late 20s, who are poor, alone and down on their luck. But drug and alcohol addiction is a great equalizer. It cuts across all facets of society and includes poor, rich, male, female, young, old, and every race in various degrees.

In the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it was reported that 10.7 percent of black or African Americans age 12 or older had used an illicit drug within the past month. Among whites, 9.1 percent of those age 12 or older had used an illegal drug in the past month. For Hispanics, the figure was 8.1 percent. For Asians, the survey found 3.5 percent had used an illegal drug within the month.
Numbers also varied concerning alcohol use with over 55 percent of whites using alcohol, 25 percent to excess at least once a month and over 8 percent considered heavy drinkers.
For blacks, about 45 percent used alcohol within the month with about 20 percent using it to excess once a month and about 6 percent considered heavy users.
Now some data on substance dependence. “In 2010, among persons age 12 or older, rates of substance abuse were lower among Asians (4.1 percent) and Pacific Island Natives (5.6 percent) than other racial/ethnic groups,” the report said.
“The rates for the other racial/ethnic groups were 16 percent for Native American Indians … 9.7 percent for Hispanics … 8.9 percent for whites, and 8.2 percent for blacks.”
Now re-read the first sentence of this article. For those drug dependencies, 53 percent have underlying mental health issues. That’s a 37 percentage point spread between this group and the second highest group with addiction issues, Native American Indians. That’s a 43.8 percentage point spread between persons with mental health issues and blacks, the group with the lowest dependency rate.

This tells us a lot. It tells us that treatment of mental health issues is not close to where it needs to be to relieve the pain and distress that comes with them.
Attitudes towards substance abuse might need to shift, to allow an honest response to the problem. It turns out, most of the time, dependency is not about kids from the ghetto who made bad choices. It is about persons across social spectrum with real pain – pain they never asked for – and their struggles to cope.

Persons diagnosed with a mental health issue early in life need a much more serious attempt by society to ward off the dangers of drug and alcohol use. This is absolutely clear.
There are also stereotypes among those with mental illness. Hopefully, we can now toss aside the idea that a mental illness is a situation in which a healthy person chooses a frivolous, irresponsible life. Bi-polar disorder is not someone on a lark or vacation. Neither is depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder or the other conditions categorized as a mental illness.
Hollywood has made huge strides forward in recent years portraying people facing mental illnesses with courage and conviction. The feature film “Silver Linings Playbook” explores the life of a man with bi-polar disorder. “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” looks at the life of a young man with post-traumatic stress disorder.

These films counter the notion that mental illnesses are about people choosing to have a debilitating illness that just happens not to be visible under a microscope.
Lastly, the percentage of persons with chemical dependency issues who also have mental health issues is a towering national embarrassment. It is hard to see it any other way than that.

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