The numbers are in, and they’re not good.

What are the numbers? They’re the numbers of drug-related deaths in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdoses killed 70,237 U.S. citizens in 2017.

Some observers thought that these numbers would be lower. More people are aware of addiction and drugs. Federal, state, and local authorities and other entities are taking measures to prevent drug addiction, news stories feature stories about opioid/opiate drug abuse in various media, and organizations and people are discussing drugs and how they affect people.

People may know more about drug addiction, but this awareness may not be helping people fight it. If anything, the addiction problem is worsening. According to the CDC, “The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol) increased by 45% between 2016 and 2017, from 6.2 to 9.0 per 100,000.”

 

Do Stigmas Hinder Treatment?

But, knowing about drugs in a general sense can be quite different from applying this knowledge to one’s own personal life. Even if people know that they’re addicted, they might be reluctant to seek treatment. They might worry that treatment will take them from their jobs or families, or if treatment will be too expensive for them.

Sadly, they might also be reluctant to seek to treatment because they’re afraid of what other people may say or do. Stigma still exists surrounding drug or alcohol abuse. Stigma still exists surrounding mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Since people with mental illnesses often deal with substance abuse as well, a condition known as a dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorder, or a comorbity, they may worry about facing all sorts of stigmas at once.

Mental illnesses and substance abuse are related because “alcohol, prescription drug, and illegal drug overdose; suicide; and alcoholic liver disease/cirrhosis of the liver” are sometimes known as diseases of despair, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

 

Is There a Connection Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health?

How are they connected? People who heavily use drugs or alcohol might become depressed, which could lead to suicide ideation or suicide. Or, depression could drive substance abuse, which could create further depression and contribute to suicidal feelings. This has led many people to call substance abuse another type of mental illness.

Effective mental health treatment, then, is just as important as effective substance abuse treatment. Treating one and not the other is not adequate treatment and can lead to relapses in mental illnesses and addiction.

Maybe we should talk more about mental health and allocate more resources to mental health. Maybe these actions can also help reduce the numbers of drug overdoses in the coming years. Given the overdose crisis, it’s certainly something to consider.