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Dual Diagnosis – The Connection Between Addiction and Mental Illness

dual diagnosis

This is the first article in our series on Dual Diagnosis. 

Referred to as dual diagnosis (or co-occurring disorders), the combination of addiction and mental illnesses is one of the most commonly occuring conditions. Under the term of dual diagnosis are all forms of mental illness, from mild anxiety or depression to a severe bipolar disorder that happens simultaneously with substance abuse. It’s relatively new in the addiction recovery field because, until the 1990s, people with a dual diagnosis treated the two or more conditions separately. The connection between addiction and mental illness wasn’t established and they were asked to get clean and then go to mental treatment. People with dual diagnosis deal with a double social stigma. One because of the addiction and the other one because of the mental illness.  anxiety-dual diagnosis

1. The Connection Between Addiction and Mental Illness

According to NIDA, addiction is one type of mental illness and even though addiction and mental illness are connected, it doesn’t mean they necessarily cause one other. In some cases, drug abuse leads to the development of mental illnesses and mental disorders can also trigger drug abuse. There are other factors included when developing a dual diagnosis, such as genetic vulnerabilities and environmental triggers. According to NIDA, people with a genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia might develop the disease when using marijuana. It’s possible the drug may trigger the illness.

Cocaine use can trigger depression because of the high levels of dopamine production. Over time, the brain might start producing less dopamine, which increases the risk of depression. On the other hand, people that spend their life in an environment that influenced them negatively, or experienced some sort of trauma, might be more vulnerable to the disease of addiction. They are likely to develop an anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder that leads to substance abuse – because they use drugs and alcohol to cope with negative feelings, even for a moment.

Related: 5 Ways to Help an Addicted Person Who Doesn’t Want Help

Substance abuse affects the development of mental illnesses, and sometimes, drugs cause the mental illness. In some cases, the mental illness occurs first and people use drugs and alcohol to feel better. Which can work for the first few times, but after the substance leaves the brain, the symptoms worsen. Consequently, the most common mental disorders that co-occur with addiction are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality Disorders
  • Bipolar Disordermental illness and addiction

2. Symptoms

The symptoms of a person suffering from co-occurring disorders include:

  • The person uses drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings.
  • You’ll notice a personality change.
  • They don’t participate in family activities. Don’t hang out with friends.
  • Act aggressive and impulsive. Or show signs of depression.
  • They hang out with other people that abuse drugs.
  • Can’t sleep, even though are tired most of the time.
  • They don’t take care of their personal hygiene.
  • You’ll notice that they act as you’re their enemy.
  • They are disoriented and confused. Can’t focus.
  • They might be suicidal.
  • Their behavior can become paranoid.

Related: 30 Early Signs Your Loved One is Struggling with Addiction

However, the symptoms of general drug abuse aren’t much different from the symptoms that a patient with dual diagnosis experiences. It can be challenging to diagnose this condition.


3. Dual Diagnosis Treatment

An individual plan that works only for you and no one else is the right approach to treatment. So, look for a rehab that offers personalized treatment options that address the underlying issue and finds the connection between your mental condition and your substance abuse.depression and drug abuse

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosing a co-occurring disorder is challenging because many drugs show the same symptoms as some mental illnesses, making it hard to differentiate the conditions. A 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 17.5% (7.98 million people) suffered from a co-occurring disorder.

Many programs don’t have the necessary treatment for dual diagnosis.When looking for a rehab, find out how good their dual diagnosis program is or if they have one. You might not know it, but it is likely you or your loved one has developed a mental illness with the addiction. People with addiction undergo a careful assessment and evaluation that reveals the symptoms of mental illness.

Here are some treatment options:

  • Holistic Rehab. This treatment approach gives the foundation in the process of healing, by addressing the underlying issue and focusing on the recovery of the whole body, not only the addiction. It addresses the person’s issues by targeting the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental side. Holistic rehab uses different methods to relapse prevention, such as art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and more.

Related: Holistic Rehab – A Different Approach to Addiction Recovery

  • Medications. Some approaches include medication as a necessary step towards healing. They ease withdrawal.
  • A combination of traditional and holistic rehab. With dual diagnosis, intervention can cause a negative result, as the person may fall into the mental condition more deeply. It’s important to break the denial, offer support and build strong relationships. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholic Anonymous don’t improve the health of the patients. But a combination of individual, group and family support and therapy helps the person learn social skills and replace addiction with new behaviors. It’s possible to work on the two issues at the same time, but it doesn’t suit every patient.addiction and depression

3. How Can you Help?

  • Understand. If your loved one is diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, understand the difficulty behind it.
  • Support. Support your loved one during therapy and after treatment.
  • Stay informed. You need to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition. It gives you better insight to the situation and educates you on the possible outcomes.
  • Be patient. Last but not least, be patient. Regardless of the first results during or after therapy, your loved one will need further support. It’s going to be a long ride, but the end result is always worth the struggle.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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