People suffering simultaneously from substance abuse and mental illness often feel they have no need for medical treatment, says a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The report is based on the responses of 68,126 persons age 12 and older gathered through SAMHSA’s 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Of 17.5 million American adults with serious mental illness, 4 million abuse alcohol or illegal drugs, said the survey, which was presented Thursday during a three-day conference sponsored in part by SAMHSA.
About 52 percent of respondents with mental health as well as substance-abuse disorders reported receiving no treatment for either disorder during the previous 12 months. Of those, 61 percent said they didn’t need treatment. The report did not answer why.
“Our data doesn’t go into heads and ask them why they don’t need treatment,” SAMHSA spokeswoman Leah Young said. “Very often, people don’t go into treatment until their family and friends say they need help. A lot of people don’t recognize what is wrong.”
SAMHSA administrator Charles Curie said professionals who diagnose co-occurring disorders need to integrate treatment and supportive services.
“Both disorders must be addressed as primary illnesses and treated as such,” Mr. Curie said.
The report defines treatment for mental illness as “treatment or counseling for any problem with emotions, ‘nerves,’ or mental health … in any inpatient or outpatient setting,” and includes prescription-drug use.
Substance-abuse treatments include those administered at alcohol- or drug-rehabilitation facilities but excludes self-help groups.
Among adults with co-occurring disorders, 34 percent received only mental-health treatment and 2 percent received only substance-abuse treatment, the report said. Twelve percent received treatment for both disorders.
Virginia Guy, executive director of the Drug Education Council in Mobile, Ala., said her organization sees a tremendous number of people with co-occurring disorders.
“Some people have mental illness and begin using drugs because they are self-medicating,” she said. “Others are using the drugs, and we’re not sure how mental illness develops out of it.”
As awareness of co-occurrence grows, centers become better able to treat the diseases, Ms. Guy said.
Although not surprised by SAMHSA’s statistics, she estimates that they are on the conservative side.
“There’s also a lot of stigma associated with addiction and mental illness,” Ms. Guy said. “There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment. That’s one place that education can really help.”