Is there a correlation between mental health, substance abuse, and gun violence?

Do substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions significantly contribute to the higher risk of mass gun violence in the United States? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gun violence is now the leading cause of death among young people in America. Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary and in 2022, Robb Elementary, are all examples of mass gun violence events targeting young people in America.

About 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a mental illness, a condition in which a person’s thinking, feelings, mood or behaviors is affected. Often these conditions go undiagnosed and can lead to other risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and violence. In light of the most recent mass shooting at Rob Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the question arose of whether or not the mental health status of the shooter was the leading contributing factor to his deadly actions. Is there a correlation between co-occurring mental health conditions and violence and does it play a major role in mass gun violence events in the United States?

A handgun and needle syringes are on a silver metal table.

Studies have shown that when it comes to violence and specifically gun violence, mental health disorders alone play only a small factor. In fact, most individuals who suffer from mental health disorders are not violent and are actually more likely to become victims of interpersonal violence. When advocates for gun violence prevention heavily focus on the mental health aspect, it ultimately creates a negative stigma and prejudice surrounding individuals suffering from mental health problems and prevents them from seeking out the appropriate treatment they need. 

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However, when it comes to co-occurring mental health conditions linked to substance use disorders, there is a much higher risk of gun violence. The usage of illicit substances and alcohol abuse in particular have been commonly associated with gun violence. Alcohol misuse is one of the most commonly abused substances in the U.S. In a 2015 study from UC Davis, death rates from alcohol-related gun violence were found to be higher than death rates from car crashes. Excessive alcohol use and alcohol addiction have a major impact on an individual’s psychological behavior. Over time, overconsumption of alcohol can begin to physically alter certain areas of the brain, which ultimately leads to impaired judgment and a tendency towards violence. An individual who is suffering from mental health disorders, oftentimes turns to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with their distressing symptoms. Substance use disorders and mental health illnesses can co-exist in an endless cycle. This is when the combination of health issues leads to greater risks of dangerous behaviors such as overdose, violence and specifically gun violence. 

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Drug and alcohol addiction rehab centers such as Hotel California by the Sea, address issues of substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions. Their inpatient residential and outpatient programming offers medically managed detoxification, evidenced-based therapeutic treatments and family support services for individuals who need assistance on their journey to recovery. By treating these individuals and stopping the interchanging cycle of mental health disorder and substance abuse, the risks for gun violence is significantly lowered.