Monday, 26 March 2018

Closing the Mental Illness and Addictions Treatment Gap

With mental illness and addictions running rampant together, it is little wonder that around 50 percent of those diagnosed with a mental illness will also become addicts at some point. Whether through self-medicating behavior or as a way to escape, addiction and mental illness seem to go hand in hand. Although there is some argument as to whether mental health problems cause addiction and whether addiction causes mental illness, the correlation between the two is obvious. Both mental illness and addictions have similar symptoms and similar recovery timelines. There is no cure for either and both tend to be relapsing conditions.

Despite recent advances in the fields of addiction medicine and treatment for mental health disorders, they are often treated as two very separate problems. While therapy or psychoactive medications are provided for mental health issues, replacement medications and therapy are provided for addiction and detoxification. These models often work best for the individual disorders and it is little wonder that clinicians treat them in these ways. Unfortunately, when they occur together, many people find themselves only being treated for one or the other. This creates what is known as the treatment gap between mental illness and addiction.

This treatment gap, unfortunately, dooms someone suffering from a co-occurring disorder like mental illness and addiction to repeating the same cycle over and over again. The cycle begins with addiction or manifestation of the mental illness, then resolves in treatment, and finally because only one disorder is actually being treated ends in relapse and repetition of the cycle.

The treatment gap exists for a few reasons. Lack of proper screening techniques to catch both illnesses is one of the most prevalent. The current screening techniques are designed to find mental illness or addiction and then stop there. They do not look any farther than the first disorder found. Another prevalent reason for the treatment gap is lack of provider training. Many providers are either mental health specialists or addiction specialists. There is not a tremendous amount of crossover between the two disciplines. In order to treat both, you need someone who is capable of treating both.

Mental illness and beginning addiction are often easy to hide. When someone is attempting to screen for both, it is not uncommon for the client to attempt to hide one or the other. This coupled with the high cost of treating either disorder let alone treating both further exacerbates the treatment gap.

Fortunately, more and more treatment centers are moving towards integrated treatment options. These treatment options, like the ones that you can find at, provide both mental illness and addictions treatment at the same time. Providers of integrated treatment utilize; integrated screening methods to detect both disorders, treatment protocols and training to treat addiction and mental illness at the same time. They also use targeting for vulnerable populations who may present with both mental illness and addiction and who may or may not self-medicate, as well as improved funding sources and lower cost combined treatment options. Each of these methods is designed to break the cycle and close the treatment gap.

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