How Mental Health Can Affect Substance Use Disorders

by Libby Baker, SAPC West Coordinator

For Substance Abuse Prevention Month, LUK is featuring a series of blogs specially discussing substance abuse prevention activities.

In recent years, Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) have been identified as a mental health illness. For many people, another mental health illness comes along with SUDs and it’s hard to identify which one started first. SAMHSA has designed the SPF (Strategic Prevention Framework) to provide a community based approach for prevention, intervention, and treatment for both.  

SAMHSA estimates that, as of 2014, 43.6 million people have a mental illness in the United States. In the same survey, it is estimated that 20.2 million people have a SUD and 7.9 million suffer from both. Mental illnesses can have a big impact on how we make choices and socialize with other people, as well as our mood, thinking, and behavior. Sometimes the biggest coping mechanisms for those that aren’t in treatment for their mental illness is a behavior that can end up being very dangerous, such as SUDs.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse those with a severe mental illness are 4 times more likely to be considered a heavy alcohol user, which means consuming 4 or more drinks per day. They are also 3.5 times more likely to regularly use marijuana and 4.6 times more likely to use other drugs. The biggest relationship, however, is with smoking. Those with a severe mental illness are 5.1 times more likely to smoke daily. So the question now becomes: if we were to crack down on those with mental illness and get them into treatment, can we prevent these 7.9 million people from having a SUD as well? With increased mental health services and better access, it’s possible. The first thing that will need to be done is to Shatter the Stigma on mental health and SUDs. Stigmatization is the greatest barrier to individuals seeking help, because they feel as though they will be looked down on. We will also need to watch for warning signs in our friends and family members. If you think someone who may need help, say something. For all the teens out there, Instagram has developed a new feature where you can flag a picture if you think someone might be fighting a battle that they need help (and it’s completely anonymous).  Together we can help the people we love get the services we need and decrease that 7.9 million people who have a mental illness and a Substance Use Disorder.

For information on you can help Shatter the Stigma to help people access services please visit

For more information about LUK’s Substance Abuse Prevention Services, please visit, call 800-579-0000, or like the Prevention Facebook page at


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