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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Psychiatric comorbidity in forensic psychiatry

Tija Zarković Palijan, Lana Muzinić, Sanja Radeljak
Psychiatria Danubina 2009, 21 (3): 429-36
19794370
For the past several years a numerous studies in the field of forensic psychiatry confirmed a close relationship between violent offenders and comorbid substance abuse. The comorbid substance abuse in violent offenders was usually unrecognized and misdiagnosed. Furthermore, comorbidity in forensic psychiatry describes the co-occurrence of two or more conditions or psychiatric disorder known in the literature as dual diagnosis and defined by World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, many violent offenders have multiple psychiatric diagnoses. Recent studies have confirmed causal relationship between major psychiatric disorders and concomitant substance abuse (comorbidity) in 50-80% of forensic cases. In general, there is a high level of psychiatric comorbidity in forensic patients with prevalence of personality disorders (50-90%), mood disorders (20-60%) and psychotic disorders (15-20%) coupled with substance abuse disorders. Moreover, the high prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities could be found in mentally retarded individuals, as well as, in epileptic patients. Drugs and alcohol abuse can produce serious psychotoxic effects that may lead to extreme violent behavior and consequently to serious criminal offence such as physical assault, rape, armed robbery, attempted murder and homicide, all due to an altered brain function and generating psychotic-like symptoms. Studies have confirmed a significant statistical relevance in causal relationship between substance abuse and violent offences. In terms of forensic psychiatry, the comorbidity strongly contributes in the process of establishing psychiatric diagnosis of diminished mental capacity or insanity at the time of the offence in the course of clinical assessment and evaluation of violent offenders. Today, the primary focus of forensic psychiatry treatment services (in-patient or community) is management of the violent offenders with psychiatric comorbidity which requires a multilevel, evidence based approach to the patient. Forensic treatment service effectiveness appears to be associated with individual case management and approach including psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and occupational therapy in order to achieve optimal rehabilitation, prevention of recidivism and stability in social functioning of the patient in the community.

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