What Is Dual Diagnosis & Why Is It Important This Mental Health Month?

While in treatment for addiction, it is not at all uncommon for an individual to get diagnosed with an underlying mental health issue, but what is dual diagnosis and why is it important to know about?

In fact, statistics show that nearly half of those struggling with addiction also struggle with a mental illness. Whether they know this or not makes proper treatment even more important.

Dual diagnosis refers to substance abuse that presents with co-occurring mental health or behavioral disorder. Because it is so prevalent, it is important that treatment facilities focus on both an approach to addiction and mental health.


Do We Know Why Dual Diagnosis Occurs?

To be completely honest, no one exactly knows why mental health disorders seem to be present with substance abuse. However, that doesn’t stop the many theories that arise in trying to figure this out. For example:

  • Some researchers believe that one causes the other. For example, various substances can cause chemical changes and patterns of the brain. And, this could, potentially, result in mental health or behavioral disorder.
  • Others feel that it is simply our genetic and biological makeup. Some of us are just pre-wired to deal with these issues.
  • Yet other researchers strongly believe that substance abuse may have been a means of coping with a mental health condition. In other words, a way of self-medicating, so-to-speak. However, in the midst of everything, the use of the substance got out of control and lead to addiction.

We may never know exactly why dual diagnosis is so popular. Or, which came first – the addiction or the disorder?

But what we do know, is the best way to confront both to leave you with the best chance for a successful recovery.


Potential Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

If you know that you or someone you love has an addiction problem, it may be difficult to tell if their behaviors are a result of the drugs or alcohol. Or, if they are truly mental health related.

Either way, however, there are a few potential signs that you should be looking out for that may signal there may be a co-occurring situation. These are:

  • Sudden behavioral changes.
  • Difficulty managing basic tasks and daily chores.
  • Neglecting one’s hygiene.
  • Erratic behaviors
  • Impulsivity
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Financial issues
  • Refusal of treatment
  • Loss of joy
  • Disillusioned thinking


Most Common Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Conditions

There are some mental health conditions that are more commonly found with dual diagnosis patients.

– Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

Those individuals who have been prescribed medicine for the treatment of ADD or ADHD are already at a disadvantage. These stimulants are incredibly habit forming and can easily lead to substance abuse over time. Often times, drugs and alcohol are used as a means of managing the disorder.

– Bipolar Disorder:

Bipolar disorder often leaves individuals exhausted thanks to the constant change between manic and depressive episodes. For those left untreated or diagnosed, using some form of drugs or alcohol is common to manage the symptoms of the disorder.

– Borderline Personality Disorder:

Impulsive choices often made by those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) often lead to the use of various substances. Thus, increasing their risk of addiction.

– Depression:

This is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in our country. Many individuals use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, only worsening their depressive symptoms. This combination can be detrimental to one’s overall well-being.

– Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Getting through daily life tasks with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can be extremely difficult. Its no wonder why so many of these individuals turn to methods of self-medication. Unfortunately, however, this just leaves them in a downward spiral that is nearly impossible to get out of.

– Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

Individuals who deal with the pangs that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) brings can often find themselves dealing with anxiety and depression, too. OCD brings involuntary actions that leave the individual feeling on edge and unsettled. This often leads to the use of drugs and alcohol to manage the symptoms.

– Visual and Auditory Hallucinations:

These are a large part of Schizophrenia. Dealing with these disruptions as well as the other delusional behaviors can be difficult and frustrating. Not knowing what is real and what isn’t can leave these individuals seeking a means of self-medication.

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the mental health disorders that may be part of a dual diagnosis situation.


The Importance of Treating Both Conditions

When presented with a potential co-occurring diagnosis, it is important that both the substance abuse and the mental health condition are addressed. Treatment facilities must know the importance of looking for dual diagnosis cases and understand how to handle them.

So, how is treatment different in this situation?

It is important to try to determine whether or not the behaviors are truly an underlying mental health condition and not just the side effects of the substance abuse mimicking one. In addition, creating a personalized treatment program is the only true way to overcome.

Following through an addiction treatment program with underlying therapeutic services can be very beneficial. The psych team can work to get the mental illness, if present, under control so that the focus can be on overcoming addiction.

Often times, after reducing mental illness symptoms, there is less desire for the substance. And, at the very least, a clear head and increasing ability to focus on getting healthy.

Treating one without treating others will almost inevitably lead to relapse.


May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We talk about it often, but we don’t explain the depth of the hurt, pain, and life disruption that dual diagnosis and these disorders can cause.

So, this is a perfect time for people everywhere – addict or not – to get educated and learn about the mental health issues plaguing so many people in our society.

Knowing the signs and symptoms can ultimately lead others to seek treatment before attempting to self-medicate and falling into a pattern of substance abuse.

The power of education and therapies can change your life – and the lives of those around you.


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