The National Academies

Rethinking Addiction and Mental Health Care

By Patricia Pooladi

May 14 - Anti-addiction treatments for alcohol dependence have advanced in recent years, as understanding of the biological and genetic underpinnings for alcoholism has grown. Recent evidence suggests that people with a specific gene variant are more at risk for substance abuse, and those people are more responsive to certain medications that block those specific opioid receptors.

Mental and substance-use illnesses are a leading cause of disability and death worldwide. Effective treatments exist, but in addition to being difficult to diagnose, mental illness and addiction require consistent treatment and attention. When services are fragmented and barriers prevent many from receiving these treatments, the patient is often left to suffer.

The Institute of Medicine report Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance-Use Conditions says that without a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of health care for people with mental conditions and alcohol or drug problems, high-quality care in the nation's overall health system and better health for the public are goals that will remain unmet. The report offers such a strategy, outlining key roles for government officials, clinicians, health care organizations, health plans, and purchasers -- companies or other groups that compensate health care providers for delivering services to patients.

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