Mental Health and Substance Use: An Undeniable Link

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By Heath Vandeventer, Senior Director of Clinical Access

Substance use is a complex challenge that requires an understanding of mental health comorbidities. Substance use disorder (SUD) is seldom a solitary condition — it is often intertwined with an array of mental health issues, creating a web of formidable links. Before substance use evolves into a disorder, it’s important for health professionals to recognize that many individuals use substances as a coping mechanism for mental health challenges.

The High Rate of Comorbidity

Research shows that approximately half of all people with a mental health disorder are affected by SUD and vice versa. There are a number of reasons for this high rate of comorbidity: for example, both mental health disorders and substance use disorders often share similar risk factors such as genetics, trauma and stress. Additionally, people with mental health disorders may be more likely to use substances in order to cope with their symptoms, and conversely, people with substance use disorders may be more likely to develop mental health problems secondary to the effects of their substance use.

The comorbidity of mental health and SUD can have a significant impact on an individual’s health and well-being. For example, people with co-occurring disorders are more likely to experience a number of negative outcomes, including:

  • Increased risk of relapse
  • Higher rates of hospitalization
  • Poorer quality of life
  • Increased risk of death

The Need for Specialized Care

Only 13 percent of people with SUD receive any treatment that could help them successfully stop using substances and remain in recovery, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is imperative that we must do more to address the country’s intertwined mental health crisis and SUD epidemic. Substance use disorder requires a multi-pronged approach to care and ongoing support that is tailored to each individual — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For opioid use disorder, for example, using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapies provides a whole-patient approach to treatment that can yield dramatic improvements.

For people living with SUD, accessing the mental health care they need is a major challenge, with wait times that can average more than three months for an initial visit. Health plans can and should utilize a combination of technology and clinical expertise to connect people with the care they need. Following a clinical screening process that is driven by risk assessment provides insight into individual members. Risk factors for someone with SUD may be detected earlier and members can be routed to evidence-based care faster with this type of predictive screening. By using data to quickly connect members with care — and ensure they’re getting the appropriate care — health plans can ensure that no one with high-risk comorbid conditions falls through the cracks.

With Lucet’s Navigate & Connect, comprehensive screening and analytics tools detect clinical acuity, including risk factors for SUD. Universal screening can also prevent issues that often lead to substance use before symptoms worsen and become more challenging to treat.

Heath Vandeventer

“Treatment is more than just about identifying patients at risk of SUD. Behavioral health professionals must understand an individual’s social determinants of health and tailor interventions accordingly.”

Heath Vandeventer – Senior Director of Clinical Access

Combatting Relapse Requires Continued Follow-up Care

Preventing relapse is one of the most pressing issues in treating SUD. Studies show that 40-60% of individuals relapse within 30 days of an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center. At Lucet, we’ve implemented a specialized SUD program aimed at members with a history of readmissions to facility care. Those engaged with our program have shown a 24% reduction in inpatient readmissions and a 34% reduction in residential readmissions. Our comprehensive 24/7/365 clinician support also promotes retention in care, which is critical to SUD recovery.

For health care providers, treatment is more than just about identifying patients at risk for SUD. Behavioral health professionals must understand an individual’s social determinants of health and tailor interventions accordingly. Lucet offers a substance use prevention toolkit to help health care professionals intervene more effectively, and ensure that their patients get timely care.

Heath Vandeventer is senior director of clinical access at Lucet, The Behavioral Health Optimization Company.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline — 1-800-662-4357

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