Violent victimization of persons with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders.

Objective: This study examined the frequency with which persons in the community with psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and both types of disorders are victims of violence.

Methods: The relationship between diagnosis, gender, and victimization over a one-year period was examined in two cross-sectional data sets, one drawn from a study of adaptation to community life of persons with severe mental illness in Connecticut (N=109) and the other drawn from assessments made by caseworkers in a Connecticut outreach project for persons with psychiatric and substance use disorders (N=197). Analysis of variance was used to evaluate the frequency of victimization across diagnostic categories in each data set.

Results: People with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders had significantly more episodes of victimization than those with either a psychiatric or a substance use disorder only. Gender was not associated with victimization. Qualitative data from focus groups indicated that social isolation and cognitive deficits leading to poor judgment about whom to trust may leave people with serious mental illness vulnerable to drug dealers.

Conclusion: Social environmental mechanisms, such as exploitation by drug dealers, may play an important role in maintaining victimization among persons with co-occurring disorders.