By On January 3rd, 2014

People with Severe Psychiatric Illness More Likely to Smoke, Drink and Use Drugs


New research shows that if you have a severe psychiatric illness, you are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and/or use drugs.  I certainly found this to be true when I worked in admissions at our hospital.  When taking a new patient’s history, it was rare to come across someone who didn’t have current substance abuse issues or a history of substance abuse.

The author of the study, Dr. Sarah M. Hartz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University, stated, “Some studies have shown that although we psychiatrists know that smoking, drinking and substance use are major problems among the mentally ill, we often don’t ask our patients about those things,” she said. “We can do better, but we also need to develop new strategies because many interventions to reduce smoking, drinking and drug use that have worked in other patient populations don’t seem to be very effective in these psychiatric patients.”  I think the lackluster job we might do as mental health and medical professionals has to do with the magnitude of what some of these individuals are dealing with.  Smoking seems to fall down lower on the priority list when someone is dealing with hearing voices and delusions, for example.  Even though it’s not good practice, I can see where a doctor is more likely to talk with a patient who is otherwise mentally and physically healthy about the dangers of smoking and neglect to address the smoking habit with a patient dealing with the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Another point made in the article was about the absence of protective factors for certain subgroups.  The so called “protective effect” for certain groups regarding substance abuse disappears for those individuals with mental illness.  This speaks to the isolation and stigma of mental illness that we still need to overcome.

Read more here.   

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