Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is a term used to describe someone who has both a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder simultaneously. There are a myriad of disorders that typically coincide with substance abuse but the most common are: eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Because there are so many different types of dual diagnosis prognosis, having this diagnosis is fairly common. In fact, about one in four people with a mental illness also struggles with a substance abuse disorder.  Although it is typically unknown whether drugs or alcohol are used as a form of self-medication because of a mental illness or the drugs or alcohol cause a mental illness, it is known that mind-altering substances have a profound effect on perpetuating a mental illness disorder. As this diagnosis is complex to treat, having trained medical guidance along with possible behavioral therapy and support groups is essential when treating both disorders.

Common Mental Illness Disorders and Addiction

Oftentimes, when one suffers from a mental illness (whether knowingly or unknowingly), they may seek to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol. As there are many mental illnesses that can trigger substance abuse, it is vital that one seek professional medical health when there is a concern of mental illness, especially if it runs in one’s family. 

Some common mental illness disorders that can trigger addiction are:

  • Eating Disorders: typically drugs that suppress appetite are utilized when someone is suffering from an underlying eating disorder.
  • Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): this disorder makes it hard for a person to focus and control impulsive behaviors. As such, impulsiveness can translate to a strong urge to self-medicate without considering the consequences. Furthermore, some medications prescribed to help treat ADHD can be habit-forming and can be the gateway to using harder drugs in the future. 
  • Bipolar Disorder: because Bipolar is marked by extreme changes in behavior, from mania (high energy) to depressive states (low energy), it can be tempting for someone suffering from this disorder to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, substance abuse only masks the symptoms temporarily and can cause greater turmoil to the user in the end. 

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  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): someone with BPD has a difficult time regulating emotions. As with all mental disorders, this can lead to abusing alcohol or drugs to “numb” out the often intense emotions experienced by the person with this disorder.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A person with GAD has excessive and persistent worry about numerous things, including but not limited to: money, health, family, and work. Because there are a number of anxiety-lessening medications that are habit-forming, someone with GAD has a higher chance of becoming addicted to the medications prescribed to them. 
  • Depression: Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can drive someone to abuse drugs or alcohol in order to feel temporarily “numb”. A major concern with abuse and depression is that typically drugs can ignite depression in people, especially in the detox phase of coming off the substance. This is turn causes depression to worsen in the presence of drugs or alcohol.

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  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): This disorder is marked by chronic, uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviors. To turn off the obsessive, compulsive thinking, someone may be inclined to “silence” their thoughts through drugs or alcohol.
  • Schizophrenia: This disorder affects someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors to the point that it can be debilitating for the sufferer. As such, many turn to mind-altering substances to escape their disabling “internal reality”. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): this psychiatric disorder causes someone to have intense, disturbing thoughts or nightmares related to their trauma long after the traumatic event has ended. Like all previously mentioned mental illness disorders, someone with PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those painful feelings.

Symptoms That One Needs Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Whether someone is suffering from substance abuse or a mental health illness (or both), it is vital that the sufferer seek help. Some warning signs of a co-occurring disorder include: 

  • A sudden change in mood or behavior
  • Erratic and impulsive behaviors
  • Extreme mood swings 
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Mentions of suicide or suicidal behavior
  • Neglecting health and hygiene
  • Struggling to maintain daily tasks and responsibilities

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As this is but a minuscule list and each person can have varying warning signs depending on their condition, it is imperative that one speak to a mental health professional to rule out any co-occurring disorders. Because the likelihood of returning to substance abuse is much higher when only one disorder is addressed, approaching recovery holistically can minimize the risk of addiction returning. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Since dual diagnosis treatment is approached differently than solely treating a mental health disorder or addiction, it is paramount to ones recovery that they seek treatment that specializes in co-occurring disorders. Oftentimes, the most beneficial recovery option is to go to an inpatient drug rehab center because of the high-level of expertise and attention that these centers provide. Furthermore, with the separation from distractions and temptations for the user and 24/7 medical staff on site, the person suffering from a co-occurring disorder can rest assured that they are being taken care of in a safe environment, allowing them a chance to transition from addiction to sobriety more easily and fluidly. It is essential to note that it is highly warned against to attempt self-treatment for a co-occurring disorder. This disorder is complex and needs professional guided help for there to be a chance of long-term effectiveness. 

If you suspect you have a co-occurring disorder or you have been diagnosed with one, the time to get help is now. Do not delay seeking treatment if you think you are suffering from one, or both, disorders. You deserve to be on a path of freedom from the mental, physical, and emotional bondage of a mental illness and substance abuse disorder. 

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