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Substance Abuse, not Mental Illness, the Real Cause of Violence

Researchers say that people with mental illness that do not abuse substances are no more likely to engage in violence than people from the general population.

Although people with bipolar disorder and other forms of mental illness may be perceived by the general public to be a more violent group of people, researchers in Sweden say that it’s actually substance abuse that causes any increase in violence, and that:

  • People with bipolar who do not abuse drugs or alcohol are no more likely to engage in violence than non substance abusing people from the general population
  • People with bipolar disorder that abuse drugs or alcohol are no more likely than people from the general population that abuse drugs or alcohol to engage in violent acts

People, whether mentally ill or not, who abused drugs or alcohol were between 6 and 7 times more likely to engage in violent acts than people from the general population. Unfortunately, people with bipolar disorder are 10 times as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol as people from the general population.  

Lead researcher Dr Seena Fazel of Oxford University commented on the findings, saying, "Most of the relationship between violent crime and serious mental illness can be explained by alcohol and substance abuse…It's probably more dangerous walking outside a pub on a late night than walking outside a hospital where patients have been released"

The full research results have been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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