New research from the Washington University School of Medicine has revealed that compared with the general population, alcohol, tobacco and drug use is much higher among individuals who have psychotic disorders.
This is according to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
The research team, including first author Dr. Sarah M. Hartz, says their research is the largest ever study that assesses substance use among populations with serious psychiatric illness.
To reach their findings, the investigators analyzed the smoking, drinking and drug use of 20,000 participants.
More than 10,000 of the participants were free of mental illness, while 9,142 had been diagnosed with either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder (characterized by hallucinations and delusions) or mood disorders, including depression.
From this, the team found that 30% of participants with severe psychiatric disorders were binge drinkers – defined as consuming four servings of alcoholic beverages at one time. The researchers note that the binge drinking rate of the general population is around 8%.
The results also revealed that over 75% of participants with psychiatric disorders were regular smokers, compared with 33% of participants without mental illness.
Furthermore, around 50% of participants with mental illness demonstrated a heavy use of marijuana. Marijuana use of the general population is approximately 18%, according to the researchers.
Around 50% of participants with psychiatric illness used other illicit drugs. Recreational drug use in the general population is approximately 12%, the researchers note.
The investigators say their findings are of great concern, since people with serious psychiatric illness are more likely to die around 12-25 years earlier than individuals without mental illness.
Dr. Hartz says:
“They don’t die from drug overdoses or commit suicide – the kinds of things you might suspect in severe psychiatric illness. They die from heart disease and cancer, problems caused by chronic alcohol and tobacco use.”
Findings from the study also opposed previous research, revealing that factors including race and gender do not have their “typical influence” once a person develops a mental illness.
Dr. Hartz explains that when it comes to smoking, rates have decreased in the general population over the last few decades. She notes that individuals over the age of 50 are much more likely to have been regular smokers at some point during their lives, compared with younger people.
But their study findings revealed that among individuals who suffer from mental illness, the smoking rate is over 75%, regardless of their age.
Dr. Hartz says their results raise the question as to whether more focus on helping patients with mental illness to reduce their alcohol, tobacco and drug use would extend their life span.
She believes that health care professionals should “do a better job” of encouraging their mentally ill patients to stop using these substances.
“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 says.
“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.”
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that drug addicts are able to quit smoking if additional therapy is offered to them.