Addicts Who Suffer Mental Illness Lack Treatment Options

By Victoria Kim 01/05/15

While drug use and mental illness often go hand-in-hand, the lack of treatment options only adds to the endless cycle of trauma. 


In a new report, USA Today explores the relationship between mental illness and addiction — and the human and financial cost of not caring more about the 10 million Americans with serious mental illness.

About 8.9 million adults in the United States suffer from mental illness and substance abuse disorders, but just 7.4% receive treatment for both, while more than half receive no treatment at all, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

While mental health professionals who treat addictions often face the “chicken-or-the-egg” conundrum — whether mental illness is driving the addiction, or vice versa — about two-thirds of people who have a substance abuse issue also suffer a mental health issue, according to Ron Manderscheid, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors.

Currently in the U.S. there are a lack of treatment options for people who suffer substance abuse and mental illness. There is a need for programs that “recognize general mental health issues as well as attending to substance abuse problems,” said Francis Levin, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry.

By ignoring the importance of treating mental illness, nobody wins — least of all jail inmates who tend to harbor major trauma, serious mental illness, and drug addiction. But instead of being treated, “they go to jail and get retraumatized, again and again and again,” said Steven Leifman, an associate administrative judge for the Miami-Dade County Court.

Joan Ayala, a 57-year-old woman who is in recovery for both addiction and mental illness, can attest to this. As a young girl, she was sexually and physically abused by a family member, which gave way to substance abuse from age 14. Ayala, who now works as a mental health clinician and addiction therapist in Portland, Oregon, said she was able to address her drug addiction when she got professional help for the trauma she suffered as a child.

“Seeking help for my addiction was the gateway to getting therapy,” she said. “It’s easier to admit addiction, because it’s a substance outside yourself that is causing you problems, than it is to accept the mental illness, which means your basic functionality, who you are as a human being, is flawed.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr