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Understanding the Co-Occurrence of Mental Health Problems and Substance Use Disorder

May is Mental Health Month, which was created and launched by Mental Health America, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall health of all Americans. This year marks 70 years of celebrating Mental Health Month and educating Americans about mental illness and mental health.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Whether we realize it or not, our mental health has a considerable effect on our daily life, relationships and even physical health.

As we continue to battle the opioid crisis in communities across the United States, we can’t overlook the relationship between mental health and substance abuse problems.

According to, one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also have a substance abuse problem. A quick Google search of “mental health and substance use disorder” returns over 100 million search results in less than one second.

Understanding the Connection

It is widely known that mental health problems and substance use disorder (SUD) share some underlying causes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research suggests three common reasons for their co-occurrence:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities and environmental factors, like exposure to stress or trauma.
  • Use of drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication.
  • And, the ability for substance use to lead to changes in the brain that can make a person more susceptible to developing a mental illness.

In addition, substance use disorder is known to occur more frequently with certain mental health problems, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

However, it is important to understand that while mental health problems and SUD are often co-occurring, one does not directly cause the other. And, because symptoms vary widely, it can be difficult to recognize and/or diagnose.

The Path Forward

While local, state and federal government agencies are taking legislative and policy action to address the ongoing opioid crisis, one hurdle that remains, and one of the important reasons for Mental Health Month, is reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness promotes a three-step strategy for being StigmaFree:

  • Step One: Educate yourself and others – knowing the facts can help educate others and reject stereotypes.
  • Step Two: See the person, not the condition – knowing a person and treating them with kindness and empathy means far more than just knowing what they are going through.
  • Step Three: Take Action – pushing for better legislation and policies to improve lives for everyone.

Although this strategy focuses on mental health, it can easily be applied to those who suffer from substance use disorder. Remember, it takes a village to support people through addiction and mental health problems. From the moment they enter or receive treatment, to the moment they leave treatment, recovery is a lifelong process and the need to support them as they rebuild their lives and stay healthy is important to ensure positive outcomes.

Final Thoughts

As the opioid epidemic continues to evolve, identifying patients at risk of abuse and overdose or in need of treatment is only the beginning of a long-term recovery plan. It is imperative for healthcare providers to have access to real-time clinical decision support tools, critical insights, and analytics at the point of care in order to positively impact patient safety and health outcomes. One tool that has proven to be effective in combating prescription drug misuse and abuse nationwide are prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). However, there is still much work that needs to be done to increase their utilization and effectiveness. We believe this can be achieved through:

  • Interstate data-sharing
  • Workflow integrations
  • Clinical decision support tools
  • Access to treatment

And it’s happening today.

This next generation PDMP is a critical component of the solution and needs to be easily accessed, with one click or less, directly within clinical workflow in EHRs and pharmacy management systems. We continue to align with current legislative and government agency efforts to support the path forward and have proven solutions for improved patient outcomes ready to be rapidly deployed today to address the complex opioid problem afflicting communities across the United States.

Learn more about our model for maximum PDMP effectiveness in our whitepaper:

Up Front, Every Patient, Every Time


Appriss Health


Appriss Health

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