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National Drug Intelligence Center
      
Product No. 2004-L0559-005

April 2004

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Cover image linked to printable Drugs and Mental Illness Fast Facts.

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Printable brochure (380 KB pdf)

Drug Abuse and Mental Illness
Fast Facts

Questions and Answers 

    -What is the relationship between drug abuse and mental illness?
    -What is chronic drug abuse?
    -What are some serious mental disorders associated with chronic drug abuse?
    -How prevalent are co-occurring disorders?
    -Which occurs first--chronic drug abuse or serious mental illness?
    -Can people with co-occurring disorders be treated effectively?

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National Drug Intelligence Center
a component of the 
U.S. Department of Justice.

   
W
hat is the relationship between drug abuse and mental illness?

Many chronic drug abusers--the individuals we commonly regard as addicts--often simultaneously suffer from a serious mental disorder. Drug treatment and medical professionals call this condition a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis.

   

What is chronic drug abuse?

Chronic drug abuse is the habitual abuse of licit or illicit drugs to the extent that the abuse substantially injures a person's health or substantially interferes with his or her social or economic functioning. Furthermore, any person who has lost the power of self-control over the use of drugs is considered a chronic drug abuser.

 

What are some serious mental disorders associated with chronic drug abuse?

Chronic drug abuse may occur in conjunction with any mental illness identified in the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV). Some common serious mental disorders associated with chronic drug abuse include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Some of these disorders carry with them an increased risk of drug abuse (see text box below).

Disorders With Increased Risk of Drug Abuse

Disorder Risk
Antisocial personality disorder 15.5%
Manic episode 14.5%
Schizophrenia 10.1%
Panic disorder 04. 3%
Major depressive episode 04.1%
Obsessive-compulsive disorder 03.4%
Phobias 02.1%

Source: National Institute of Mental Health.

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How prevalent are co-occurring disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are very common. In 2002 an estimated 4.0 million adults met the criteria for both serious mental illness and substance dependence or abuse in the past year.

            

Which occurs first--chronic drug abuse or serious mental illness?

It depends. In some cases, people suffering from serious mental disorders (often undiagnosed ones) take drugs to alleviate their symptoms--a practice known as self-medicating. According to the American Psychiatric Association, individuals with schizophrenia sometimes use substances such as marijuana to mitigate the disorder's negative symptoms (depression, apathy, and social withdrawal), to combat auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions, or to lessen the adverse effects of their medication, which can include depression and restlessness.

In other cases mental disorders are caused by drug abuse. For example, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy), produces long-term deficits in serotonin function in the brain, leading to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Chronic drug abuse by adolescents during formative years is a particular concern because it can interfere with normal socialization and cognitive development and thus frequently contributes to the development of mental disorders.

Finally, chronic substance abuse and serious mental disorders may exist completely independently of one another.

      

Can people with co-occurring disorders be treated effectively?

Yes, chronic drug abusers who also suffer from mental illness can be treated. Researchers currently are investigating the most effective way to treat drug abusers with mental illness, and especially whether or not treating both conditions simultaneously leads to better recovery. Currently, the two conditions often are treated separately or without regard to each other. As a result, many individuals with co-occurring disorders are sent back and forth between substance abuse and mental health treatment settings.

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Other products of interest:

Check out Fast Facts on:

  • 5-MeO-AMT
  • AMT
  • Crack cocaine
  • Crystal methamphetamine
  • Drug-facilitated sexual assault
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Drugs and gangs
  • Drugs and the Internet
  • DXM
  • Fentanyl
  • Foxy
  • Fry
  • GHB and analogs
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Jimsonweed
  • Ketamine
  • Khat
  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Meth lab ID and hazards
  • OxyContin
  • PCP
  • Powdered cocaine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Psilocybin
  • Ritalin
  • Rohypnol
  • Salvia divinorum
  • Steroids
  • Teens and drugs
  • Triple C
  • Yaba

Also available from NDIC:

  • Huffing--The Abuse of Inhalants
  • Prescription Drug Abuse and Youth
  • Drugs, Youth, and the Internet

For more information on illicit drugs check out our web site at: www.usdoj.gov/ndic.  Call 814-532-4541 to request NDIC products.

  

Contact us

Our addresses:

National Drug Intelligence Center
319 Washington Street, 5th Floor
Johnstown, PA 15901-1622
  Telephone: 814-532-4601
  FAX: 814-532-4690

NDIC Washington Liaison Office
8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 1001
McLean, VA 22102-3840
  Telephone: 703-556-8970
  FAX: 703-556-7807

NDIC publications are available on the following web sites:

ADNET:  http://ndicosa
LEO: home.leo.gov/lesig/ndic
RISS: ndic.riss.net
INTERNET: www.usdoj.gov/ndic

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