As this country moves into a new era of how we approach the treatment, prevention and administration of illness, we must keep the rubric of co-occurring disorders at the forefront. One would be hard pressed to find a higher rate of co-occurring disorders than in the field of behavioral health, where more than 70 percent of those treated for substance abuse also have a mental health disorder.
There is no shortage of data pertaining to the dangers of co-occurring disorders. Those with such a condition die an average of eight years earlier than those with only one behavioral health disorder. High rates of tobacco use are also prevalent in co-occurring patients. For those with co-occurring disorders, physical safety and overall health risks are great and the chances for successful treatment are small. Yet co-occurring disorders are not the exception—they are the norm.
It is estimated that 8.9 million adults have co-occurring disorders—that is they have both a mental and substance use disorder. Unfortunately, fewer than eight percent of individuals receive treatment for both conditions, with 55.8 percent receiving no treatment at all. The consequences of undiagnosed, untreated or under-treated co-occurring disorders can be severe. They include homelessness, incarceration, suicide and early mortality.
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