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Study: 1 in 5 Adults Suffered a Mental Illness, Substance Use Disorders in 2010

SAMHSA survey finds higher rate of substance use disorders among those who reported a mental illness in 2010. Among all adults, 20 percent experienced mental illness last year, the study finds.

As many as 1 in 5 adults experienced a mental illness last year, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in its National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in January. This group, according to the survey, was three times more likely to meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence than were adults 18 years or older who reported no mental health symptoms in 2010. About 20 percent of adults with mental health disorders had co-occurring substance use disorders, whereas only 6 percent of adults without mental illness met the criteria for substance abuse or dependence.

Only 39 percent of those reporting symptoms received mental health services, the survey indicated. "The data underscore the importance of substance abuse treatment as well," said SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde.


The rate of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders escalated with the presence of serious mental illness. Just over 25 percent of the population with serious mental illness also experienced substance abuse or dependence. According to the survey, 5 percent of the adult population, or 11.4 million adults, had a serious mental illness last year.

Serious, or severe, mental illness is defined as mental health disorders that substantially interfere or limit one or more major life activity. The survey defined mental illness as a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder as delineated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The pattern of co-occurring disorders also held for adolescent populations. Youth aged 12 to 17 years who reported having an episode of major depression were more than twice as likely to experiment with illegal drugs. Just over 37 percent reported using illicit drugs, versus 17 percent of all adolescents, and nearly 20 percent (19.9 percent) had a substance use disorder versus 6.1 percent of all youth. They were also more likely to be daily cigarette smokers.

According to the SAMHSA survey, 1.9 million youth, or 8 percent of this population, suffered an episode of major depression last year. Of U.S. adults, 45.9 million suffered a mental illness in 2010. Of this group, adults aged 18 to 25 reported a higher rate of mental illness (29.9 percent) as did women (23 percent).

The annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health surveys approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, reports SAMHSA. The complete findings of the SAMHSA study can be found on the SAMHSA website.


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