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OBJECTIVE: To determine if the incidence of psychiatric emergencies involving drugs or alcohol supports the argument that mentally ill persons contribute to elevated mortality during the days following disbursement of private earnings and public income transfers. STUDY DESIGN: Interrupted time-series using Box-Jenkins methods. DATA COLLECTION/EXTRACTION METHODS: Daily counts of adults admitted to psychiatric emergency services in San Francisco after using drugs or alcohol were derived from medical records for the period January 1 through June 30, 1997. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Psychiatric emergencies among males who had used drugs or alcohol were elevated in the early days of the month. Such emergencies among females were not similarly elevated. Emergencies among females who had not used drugs or alcohol were elevated in the early days of the month. CONCLUSION: Elevated mortality in the first week of the month may be attributable, in part, to the "check effect" or use of drugs and alcohol by mentally ill males in the days after they receive income. The contribution of women is more complex and may be induced by drug or alcohol abuse among persons in their social networks. The check effect suggests that persons with a history of substance abuse and mental illness should be offered the opportunity to have their income managed by someone who can monitor and influence how the money is being spent. The fact that drug- or alcohol-related admissions among males exhibit temporal patterns suggests that the provision of preventive as well as treatment services may be strategically scheduled.