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July 1, 2005

Crime influenced by substance abuse

One of the most harmful stereotypes of people with mental illness is that they are more likely to be criminals, particularly violent ones. Statistics show that this is incorrect - people with mental disorders who are in treatment are no more likely than the average citizen to commit a violent crime.

However, a study from the Yale University School of Medicine highlights a factor that may often be ignored - substance abuse. The study showed that of the subjects with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, 56% had substance-related criminal activity. Moreover, women who had abused cocaine were almost twice as likely to have a criminal history than those who had not. Although it is easy to confound inter-related factors such as substance abuse and mental illness, due to the fact that people who cannot get the treatment they need may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, this sort of study underlines the important fact that a simple diagnosis of bipolar disorder (or any other mental illness) does not make a person more likely to commit a crime. Other factors (substance abuse among them) which affect the general population in the same way are much more influential on someone's tendency to break the law.

Access the study abstract at the following site: http://www.jaapl.org/cgi/content/full/33/2/196

Resources for dealing with a dual-diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse: http://users.erols.com/ksciacca/

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