Severely mentally ill people have much higher rates of smoking, drinking and drug use

In a large-scale study from Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, and the University of Southern California, researchers have found that those with severe mental illness have significantly higher rates of tobacco, alcohol and drug use than those who have no mental illness.

The study included nearly 20,000 people. Roughly half had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. They were compared to a control group who were not mentally ill. 

Among the severely mentally ill:

  • 30 percent engaged in binge drinking (compared to 8 percent in the general population) 
  • About 50 percent used marijuana or illicit drugs (compared to 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively) 
  • More than 75 percent smoked regularly (compared to 33 percent in the control group)

In a press release from Washington University, lead author Sarah M. Hartz, M.D., Ph.D., said:

“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.” 

More needs to be done to address co-morbid substance use, Hartz said. 

The study was published online on January 1 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.