Bridging the Gap Between Mental Illness and Addiction

February 20, 2018

There is a deep connection between mental illness and addiction. Half of all smokers are struggling with a psychological disorder. Ninety percent of people with schizophrenia also have an addiction. Of the 17 million Americans with a mental health disorder, more than 4 million have problems with substance abuse.

IU Health addiction psychiatrist, Andy Chambers, has researched this issue for the past 15+ years. Chambers is a triple threat: a researcher, trainer and practitioner. He conducts research that explores the mental illness and addiction link, trains addiction psychiatrists and practices at the Adult Dual-Diagnosis Clinic at Midtown Mental Health Center, currently the only dual-diagnosis treatment center in Indiana.

By studying rats, Chambers learned that someone with a mental illness is at a much higher risk for addiction. His team took two groups of rats, one healthy and the other with schizophrenia, and got both groups addicted to alcohol, cocaine or nicotine. The rats with mental illness became reliant on the drug much faster than the control group. Their mental illness dramatically altered their brain functionality, making them highly susceptible to the influence of addiction. Giving drugs to these rats was like throwing gasoline on a raging fire.

This research demonstrates why dual-diagnosis patients can be difficult to treat. Because mental illness alters the brain chemistry, patients who suffer from, for instance, an opioid addiction and bipolar disorder require specialized treatment.

Andy-Chambers in front of wiring map

“Imagine that a patient has pneumonia, but can only choose to go to a clinic that either treats his fever or cough,” says Chambers. “Now, he has to go to two clinics for treatment and neither clinic is really getting to the problem. If you ignore one of these, it feeds into the other.”

Chambers has developed a specialized treatment plan for dual-diagnosis patients based on his research. To bring this teaching to a wider audience, he wrote a book about his method: The 2 x 4 Model, which will be released this fall.

Chambers’ research is community benefit—initiatives that improve the health and lives of patients and positively impact the state. IU Health Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) tracks these hours to help IU Health maintain its non-profit status. Contact COE at for more information about community benefit tracking.

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