Dual Diagnosis: What Is It?

It's not uncommon for people who struggle with addiction to also suffer from depression, anxiety or a number of other mental health disorders. According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million American adults had both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder.1

When an individual is diagnosed with these two conditions simultaneously, they're said to have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. A dual diagnosis is treatable, but many people don't get the correct treatment for their needs. This article explores dual diagnosis and discusses the integrated treatment that's essential to recovery.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

There are a number of reasons that substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand. In some cases, people who are suffering from a psychiatric condition may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. A study described in the Journal of Affective Disorders reveals that over 32 percent of people diagnosed with a mood disorder have used an addictive substance to alleviate their symptoms.2

Other cases of dual diagnosis may be triggered by ongoing substance abuse. Over time, drug or alcohol abuse affects the body's ability to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter closely linked to feelings of pleasure. A deficit in dopamine levels can leave individuals susceptible to depression and other forms of mental illness.

Knowing the Signs

The only way to be certain if you have a dual diagnosis is to be evaluated by an addiction treatment professional or mental health professional. However, a few signs point to the possibility that a psychiatric condition may be fueling addictive behavior:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or sadness that persist for two weeks or more, even when you're not under the influence of a substance
  • Using addictive substances to block out difficult memories or to mask feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Depending on alcohol or drugs to handle stressful events
  • A history of mental health disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression
  • Personal or professional problems caused by your substance abuse

Treatment Options

If you are found to have a dual diagnosis, it's important to choose a treatment center that offers integrated treatment for these conditions. Many facilities are able to treat addiction, but not all of them have the resources to address the underlying psychiatric conditions that can complicate a substance use disorder.

Addiction treatment experts agree that the most effective way to treat a dual diagnosis is with a comprehensive program that addresses both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder under one roof. In an integrated treatment program, one-on-one therapy sessions give clients the opportunity to explore the relationship between their substance abuse and their underlying psychiatric condition, while group therapy allows participants to meet other individuals who are dealing with the same challenges. Once a client is ready to leave the treatment center, they'll be equipped with an aftercare plan that meets their unique needs.

A dual diagnosis poses a unique set of challenges, but long-term recovery is possible with an integrated approach to treatment. With the right treatment plan, you can overcome your dual diagnosis and move forward on the road to recovery.


References

  1. http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/103-108.htm
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