When the subject of drug or alcohol addiction surfaces, the loved ones of the person struggling with chemical dependency focus on finding the right treatment and a successful path towards lifelong recovery. But there’s another side to addiction that deserves just as much attention, the mental health aspect of the disease. As much as 50 percent of those with drug addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. Understanding dual diagnosis – both conditions present at the same time – is essential to effectively treat patients and guide their families on what to expect.
What’s Behind Dual Diagnosis Can Remain a Mystery for Years
Drug usage and mental health have a deep association with each other. Individuals inclined towards drug or alcohol use are often suffering from some mental condition which has, unbeknowingly, led them to chemical dependency. The mental illness, however, may not surface immediately only to be discovered later on. Drug addicts demonstrate symptoms of mental health issues but can be confused with behaviors due to the addiction. As such, mental health disorders are often ignored until a diagnosis is assessed during rehab. This coexistence of drug or alcohol abuse and a mental health disorder is termed as “dual diagnosis.”
Dual diagnosis is an evolving field assisting patients and the professionals related to the drug rehab industry in comprehending the relationship between the substance abuse and problems associated with mental wellbeing.
The life choices made by a person immersed in drug use are further compromised when there is the presence of mental illness. But because some of the same risky behaviors, faulty decision-making, confusion and depression that are common during drug addiction are also symptomatic for mental illness – it’s difficult to ascertain which came first, addiction or mental disorder.
Dual Diagnosis Is Still Evolving
The evolution of dual diagnosis is quickly gaining significance in medical interventions within the addiction rehab industry. As the concept of dual diagnosis is growing, the information pertaining to the existence of co-morbidity is also increasing. According to the Center of Behavioral Health Statistics, there are nearly 8 million Americans, 18 years and over, who have a dual diagnosis. In U.S. adults with alcoholism, approximately 50 percent of them also have a mental health disorder.
Drug Addiction Is a Way to Quiet Mental Disease
Recent studies indicate numerous reasons why people turn towards substance use. Often, it’s a mechanism to self-medicate and remove the symptoms of mental disorders. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and insomnia are common conditions that direct the sufferer towards indulging into drug or alcohol abuse to minimize the symptoms and maintain a false sense of control.
Mental health illnesses can affect the way a person thinks, feels and acts. Drug consumption seemingly offers an escape from the ill-feelings generated due to these disorders. Depression, for instance, promotes negative feelings in the individual and exacerbates low self-esteem.
Usage of opioids or heroin, in such a state, helps the person experience a sense of happiness or pleasurable sensations. Hence, substance use is a negative outlet, replacing what is truly needed – proper diagnosis and treatment of the mental illness.
Mental Illness Is Often Born from Drug Addiction
It can happen in reverse – heroin worsening schizophrenia, and MDMA stimulating more depression. Mental health conditions can get instigated by drug usage. Alcohol consumption and drug use, and the mixing of the two, will damage the physiological aspects of the brain changing overall brain health and compromising brain function. A person’s mental health will endure the consequences.
Risks from Dual Diagnosis, Untreated
Some of the same dangers in mental illness conditions also exist in dual diagnosis. It’s easy for people whose behavioral health is imbalanced or out of control to become reactive or the opposite, totally unresponsive. When paired with drug addiction, the risks are magnified for those with the diagnosis and those around them.
Dual Diagnosis Risks:
- High suicide rate
- Self-destructive behavior
- Violent tendencies against self or others
Common Occurrences of Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis has a significant impact on the individual’s life who is suffering from it as well as their loved ones. When drug use and mental health illness coexist, the impact is much heavier than with a single condition. Moreover, it may be difficult to determine dual diagnosis initially.
With dual diagnosis there is an increased risk for relapse. Continual assessment of both conditions is crucial to effectively manage the care of the patient and adjust the course of treatment as needed. It’s a constant balancing act where the learning of healthy life coping skills isn’t enough. Extensive counseling and medications may be needed for years after a drug or alcohol rehab program is completed.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Once dual diagnosis has been identified, appropriate treatment should be designed and implemented to address the conditions, drug addiction as well as the mental health issue, on an individual basis. Meaning, because of the complexity of dual diagnosis, a well-detailed, customized and comprehensive plan is essential in treating the patient towards a path of recovery.
The process of assessing and addressing dual diagnosis is challenging, even for the highly-skilled medical expert in the field. Whether the mental illness brought the need to self-medicate with drugs, or alcohol use disorder created a depressive disorder, finding the root cause for dual diagnosis is the key to generating the right treatment.
Methods of Dual Diagnosis Treatment Can Include:
- Medical detox
- Individual counseling
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Mindfulness practices
This complete approach is the only way to treat dual diagnosis. The purpose of an integrated program is to diminish the dependency on drugs or alcohol while improving behavioral health by applying a multi-faceted, evidence-based approach. This will contribute to the prevention of addiction relapse and provide ongoing support for behavioral and mental health.
Concerned About Dual Diagnosis? Talk to Someone Who Knows And Can Help.
Authored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.