Menus Subscribe Search

Quick Studies

death2.jpg

(Photo: Public Domain)

These Mental Illnesses and Addictions Are More Dangerous Than Heavy Smoking

• June 05, 2014 • 10:57 AM

(Photo: Public Domain)

Many mental illnesses and addictions are more heavily associated with premature deaths than heavy smoking, yet we tend to be less aware of their risks.

Everyone knows about the incredible health risks associated with lighting up and drawing nicotine and other toxic chemicals into their lungs and bloodstreams, but the oft-deadlier consequences of a number of other addictions and mental illnesses can frequently be clouded by the public’s intense focus on tobacco smoke.

Citing the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease study, University of Oxford psychiatrists say mental and behavioral disorders accounted for 232,000 deaths in 2010up from 138,000 in 1990. More than three-quarters of those 2010 deaths were linked to substance abuse disorders. Some of the disorders have stronger associations with premature deaths than smoking.

“Smoking has been an important target for preventions because it is so common and perceived to be so dangerous. Mental disorders are also relatively common when considered together, but the risk to life is not perceived in the same way.”

“Smoking has been an important target for preventions because it is so common and perceived to be so dangerous,” the psychiatrists write in a research report published recently in World Psychiatry. “Mental disorders are also relatively common when considered together, but the risk to life is not perceived in the same way.”

The researchers pored over dozens of systematic reviews and meta-analyses dealing with life expectancy and deaths associated with various mental illnesses and addictions. They used the data from these papers to estimate mortality risks, which they compared with the risks of heavy smoking.

The results were as jarring as a blaring smoke alarm.

“From a public health perspective, patients with serious mental illness should be designated as a high risk population for physical illness, given the substantial health disparities compared with the general population,” they write.

Here were the mental illnesses and addictions with especially high mortality risks when compared with the dangers of heavy smoking (which already more than doubles somebody’s risk of dying young):

  • Post-partum psychiatric admission: 770 percent greater association with premature death than heavy smoking
  • Opioid use: 580 percent
  • Amphetamine use: 240 percent
  • Cocaine use: 240 percent
  • Anorexia nervosa: 230 percent
  • Methamphetamine use: 180 percent
  • Psychotic disorders: 180 percent
  • Alcoholism: 180 percent
  • Personality disorder: 170 percent
  • Moderate to profound intellectual disability: 110 percent
  • Heavy smoking: 100 percent
  • Schizophrenia: 100 percent
  • Bipolar disorder: 80 percent
  • Bulimia nervosa: 80 percent
  • Other eating disorders: 80 percent
  • Adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as children: 80 percent
  • Depression: 60 percent
  • Depression and anxiety: 60 percent
  • Cannabis use: 50 percent

Simply grasping these elevated risks doesn’t tell the researchers why sufferers of these ailments and addictions are so prone to earlier deaths.

“We do not know the precise reasons for the excess mortality risk, and more research understanding mediators of this increased risk is necessary,” says Seena Fazel, one of the authors of the paper. “A key determinant of this increased mortality is suicideand these are often caused by the symptoms of the underlying mental disorder.”

John Upton
John Upton is a freelance journalist with an ecology background. He has written recently for VICE, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, Grist, and Audubon magazine. He blogs at Wonk on the Wildlife. Upton's favorite eukaryotes are fungi, but he won't fault you for being human. Follow him on Twitter @johnupton.

More From John Upton

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


July 24 • 2:00 PM

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.


July 24 • 12:00 PM

What’s in a Name? The Problem With Washington’s Football Team

A senior advisor to the National Congress of American Indians once threw an embarrassing themed party that involved headdresses. He regrets that costume now, but knows his experience is one many others can relate to.


July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.



July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.