There can be no good health and well-being without good mental health. It is an integral part for people to enjoy complete well-being and high quality of life. However, in the United States (U.S.) many people cannot attain this level of health since substance use disorder, including alcohol use disorder and other mental healthcare services are falling short of the needs of the community.
Alcohol and other substance use and resulting problems increase in the U.S.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused alcohol and other substance use to rise in the United States.
The products and practices of the alcohol industry, including Big Alcohol’s heavy pandemic-centric marketing and their relentless lobbying to weaken existing alcohol laws fuelled this rise in alcohol use and its resulting harms, including the rise in alcohol use disorders.
- A JAMA Network Journal study from September 2020 reported that alcohol consumption was up by 14% in 2020 compared to 2019.
- In the first few weeks of lockdowns, alcohol sales jumped 54% over the previous year.
As Movendi International previously reported more and more workers have been experiencing alcohol and other substance use problems during the pandemic. Versta Research conducted the 2020 Behavioral Health Pandemic Impact study on behalf of The Standard, surveying 1,425 full-time employees in the U.S., and found:
- 49% of American workers were experiencing alcohol or some other substance use disorder,
- 36% of workers report their alcohol and other substance use problems are affecting their work more since the coronavirus broke out, and
- Alcohol is the most common harmful substance used among American workers.
Mental health issues rise in the U.S.
Mental health issues have also been on the rise in the U.S.
At a discussion of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee it was revealed that before the pandemic, one in ten American adults experienced anxiety and depression. Since the pandemic began that figure increased to four in ten. This is a 40% increase.
A research report released by the Well Being Trust and the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2020 predicted the COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate deaths of despair in the country which include deaths from alcohol and other drugs, suicides, and liver disease.
Lack of access to alcohol and other substance use disorder treatment and mental healthcare
As Movendi International reported previously, demand for alcohol and other substance use disorder support services has steadily increased during the pandemic. But services have not been able to keep up with this rise in demand. For example, Driftwood Recovery, an addiction and mental health rehabilitation center in Texas, has had so many requests for treatment in 2021 that it has a two-month waiting list.
The Hill reports that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder nearly tripled during the pandemic, from 11% in 2019 to 31.6% in the fall of 2021.
A national survey done by the Harris Poll on behalf of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that 43% of U.S. adults who say they needed substance use or mental health care in the past 12 months did not receive that care. In contrast, only 21% of those who needed primary care reported not receiving it, according to data from the new report, 2022 Access to Care Survey.
The main obstacles to recieving substance use or mental health care include:
- Cost-related issues (no insurance or out-of-pocket costs).
- The inability to find a conveniently located provider.
- The inability to get an appointment immediately when care was needed.
Even those who managed to receive care had problems getting the care they needed.
- 81% of U.S. adults who received substance use care had trouble getting care.
- 67% of U.S. adults who received mental health care experienced difficulties getting care.
What can be done?
The Hill reports several actions that the U.S. federal government and policymakers can take to reduce the lack of access to substance use disorder services and mental health care.
- Increase substance use and mental health professionals by passing the bipartisan Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 828/H.R. 432).
- This Act would allow marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors to receive reimbursement from Medicare for their services.
- Pass the Promoting Effective and Empowering Recovery Services (PEERS) in Medicare Act (S. 2144/H.R. 2767) which would allow peer support specialists to participate in providing integrated mental health services.
- This is the care coordinated by both primary and behavioral health clinicians, to Medicare beneficiaries.
- Lifting restrictions on telehealth. The pandemic saw a shift to increased telehealth and tech-based services. This can increase access to these necessary services.
- Continue to invest in Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) by passing the Excellence Act (S. 2069/H.R. 4323). Currently Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics provide many services integrated with primary care and coordinated with other social service providers.
- Reducing stigma and discrimination connected to substance use and mental health issues.
In terms of alcohol problems, the federal and state governments must prioritize action on alcohol to prevent and reduce these harms.
Research by Boston University scientists on 29 alcohol-related policies and regulations found that combining common sense limits on alcohol outlet density with increasing alcohol taxes accounted for about 50% of the policy effects. These two policies are included in the World Health Organization’s SAFER blue print of the most cost-effective alcohol policy solutions.
As Movendi International has previously reported, alcohol taxes in the U.S. have fallen to a historic low. This is causing significant health, social and economic loss to people, communities, and society overall by increasing the country’s alcohol burden. But the U.S. federal government has an opportunity to facilitate positive change by prioritizing the health of its people through implementing a public health oriented alcohol tax increase and other alcohol policy improvements to prevent harm, promote health, and fund mental health services.
Partnership to End Addiction: “43% of Adults Who Need Substance Use or Mental Health Care Didn’t Receive It“
The Hill: “New survey: More than 4 in 10 US adults who needed substance use and mental health care didn’t get care“