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The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

The differences between substance abuse and mental illness are often blurred, especially because they are often treated as co-occurring disorders. Indeed, there is a significant cause and effect relationship between the two, as many mentally ill patients present substance abuse disorders and vice versa. While mental health facilities and addiction treatment facilities are often separate – with different staff and treatment modalities – there is no denying that substance and mental illness are intertwined. Indeed, differences and similarities of the two conditions are highlighted by separate pieces of legislation – The Baker Act and The Marchman Act. While similar in their wording, the two are quite separate.

As addiction counselors, the treatment of dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders must be a core competency because of the degree to which the two problems are linked. Most addiction treatment facilities will have the capability, to one degree or other, to treat both addiction and mental illness. Often however, clients will have to be referred out for psychiatric help beyond that which the addiction counselor can provide.

Despite the differences highlighted by the two pieces of legislation passed in Florida – the Baker Act covering emergency committal for mental illness and the Marchman Act – covering substance abuse and other disorders, they are very similar in their scope. They cannot be substituted for one another, but their similarities are telling. As counselors, understanding that the substance abuse issues are often related to mental illness will create a better recovery environment for our clients and a more satisfying and effective counseling experience.