Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

A Behavioral Health Lens for Prevention

What is Behavioral Health?

While many of us working in the substance abuse field have long-recognized the value of prevention, placing this work in the context of overall behavior health requires a critical shift in perspective. Applying a behavioral health lens to our current prevention efforts helps us to see the connections between substance abuse and related problems and to take the necessary steps to address these problems in a comprehensive and collaborative way.

Behavioral health is a state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness. Substance abuse and misuse are one set of behavioral health problems. Others include (but are not limited to) serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental illness (SAMHSA, 2011). Such problems are far-reaching and exact an enormous toll on individuals, their families and communities, and the broader society. Consider these statistics:

  • By 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.
  • The annual total estimated societal cost of substance abuse in the United States is $510.8 billion, with an estimated 23.5 million Americans aged 12 and older needing treatment for substance use.
  • Each year, approximately 5,000 youth under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking.
  • More than 34,000 Americans die every year as a result of suicide, approximately one every 15 minutes.
  • Half of all lifetime cases of mental and substance use disorders begin by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24—in 2008, an estimated 9.8 million adults in the U.S. had a serious mental illness.


Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).


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