Congress recognized 25 years ago that mental health and substance abuse are connected — that was the premise behind the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, established in 1992. But researchers are still working to understand how mental health disorders affect an individual’s risk for substance abuse, and vice versa. With the nation struggling to address a country-wide opioid abuse crisis, unlocking the brain processes that cause mental health problems and substance abuse is more important than ever.
In an exclusive interview with POLITICO, Kimberly Johnson, SAMHSA’s director of substance abuse prevention, explains how genetics and early childhood trauma contribute to both mental illness and substance abuse. She notes that Americans who abuse opioids are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness as Americans with more moderate addictions to alcohol or marijuana. And that the costs of both mental illness and substance abuse are astronomical and growing.