MONDAY, Oct. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Health professionals treating a substance abuser with a severe mental illness often aren't sure which problem to tackle first to reduce the risk of violence.
A new study suggests that treating substance abuse at the outset is more likely to reduce violent acts by people with severe mental illness.
"We were surprised to find that the severity of the patient's psychiatric symptoms was not the primary factor in predicting later aggression. Rather, the patient's substance abuse was the factor most closely associated with future aggression," study co-author Clara Bradizza, a senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, said in a university news release.
Most people with mental illness are not violent, but those with severe mental illness are more likely to commit violent acts than people in the general population, the researchers noted.
They added that there is often a link between severe mental illness, substance abuse and violence.
While some experts believe that treating symptoms of mental illness will reduce the risk of violence, this study found otherwise.
The researchers followed nearly 300 patients for six months after their enrollment in an outpatient treatment program for both substance abuse and mental illness. The study was recently published online in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
"Our findings suggest that treatment attendance is very important for these individuals and treatment programs should include interventions that are likely to decrease substance abuse, as this may provide the additional benefit of reducing the risk of later aggression among dual-diagnosis patients," Bradizza said.
"This not only improves the lives of affected individuals and their families, but also provides a safer environment for society as a whole," she added.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has more about mental illness.