Dual diagnosis is a term that refers to people who suffer from substance abuse and a mental disorder at the same time. Also known as co-occurring disorders, many people who have a mental illness will most likely experience substance abuse and vice versa. While the condition is pretty common, it’s challenging to determine what came first, the mental disorder or the alcohol or drug misuse.
Sometimes, a pre-existing mental problem might lead to substance abuse, as the person uses the drugs to self-medicate. Many people use alcohol and other drugs to relieve the symptoms of an undetected mental illness, cope with challenging feelings or improve their mood temporarily. While it works for the moment, with time, it causes significant side effects, and in the end, the drug use worsens the symptoms of the illness they first sought to alleviate.
In some cases, using drugs causes mental problems; for example, abusing substances like marijuana and methamphetamine can cause psychotic episodes in some people. It is complex to diagnose what came first, but what can be done is treat both conditions concurrently.
Apart from one causing the other in the case of substance abuse and mental illness, other common risk factors like stress, trauma or genetics can cause either of the conditions. For anyone suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, its usage might make the problem worse. Consuming alcohol while under medications such as anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants will make them less effective, hindering your recovery.
How Do You Recognize A Dual Diagnosis?
Identifying a dual diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms vary. It takes a lot of time to recognize whether it is a mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem. The signs also differ between the specific drug abused, whether it’s alcohol, prescription meds, or recreational drugs, and the mental health issue. Still, these are some of the common signs that you might have a co-occurring disorder:
- You feel uneasy, anxious, or depressed even when you are sober.
- You rely on alcohol and other substances to deal with troublesome memories and feelings or control pain. You also use drugs to either stay focused on the assignments at hand or face situations that scare you.
- You have noticed a relationship between your mental health and substance abuse. Do you drink alcohol when you’re feeling anxious, or feel depressed after drinking?
- You have been treated for a mental illness or addiction before, and the treatment did not work.
Some of the co-occurring disorders because of substance abuse include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Like many disorders, denial is common in mental health problems and substance abuse. It’s not easy to admit dependency on drugs or alcohol and their effects on your daily life. Grappling with mental health illness is also not easy, as many people are scared of dealing with depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia and admitting that they have a problem. This makes it difficult to identify and treat the problem since most just hope the issues go away.
What is the treatment for dual diagnosis?
The best way to treat dual diagnosis is to use a combined method where mental health illness and drug or alcohol abuse are treated simultaneously. First, you need a certified medical practitioner to evaluate and check your overall health, living conditions, and social factors. Once they have made a diagnosis, you can start detoxing, depending on the substance you abuse. This will help cleanse your body of the substances and deal with the withdrawal symptoms. After detox, you’ll be ready for further treatment. It’s important to note that detox can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis, with the former producing better results in sobriety.
Ideally, substance use disorders are treated with behavioral therapies and medication.
Also known as pharmacotherapy, using medicine will also be part of your treatment plan. You will be given medicine depending on the mental illness diagnosis and your needs. Some of the common medications include:
- Mood stabilizers
- Anti-anxiety medicine
Behavioral therapy models seek to change a person's drug-abusing patterns by teaching them life skills that will enable them to cope better with circumstances that may lead to substance abuse and relapse. The behavioral therapies can be done individually or within a group setting, and they include:
- Assertive community treatment (ACT) focuses on long-term support, community, and personalized medicine.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) trains you to recognize the problem behaviors and triggers for drug or alcohol abuse and how to develop coping strategies.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helps you cultivate mindfulness and acceptance of your surroundings and feelings. It also trains you on stress management and how to prevent self-harm and self-regulation.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps you deal with unhelpful thoughts through mindfulness by incorporating activities like meditation and yoga.
Treatment for dual diagnosis is not as quick as many people would hope; it’s a lifelong endeavor in many cases. The after-treatment process helps keep you in check so that you don't relapse and increases your chances of making a full recovery. The good thing is that there are many options to help you with your after treatment journey, like:
- Individual therapy, where you schedule weekly sessions with a therapist to give you recovery aid.
- Group therapy, in this, you meet other people in recovery, led by a therapist to talk about your individual journeys.
- Sober living homes provide a safe, substance-free space for people in recovery.
- Mutual support groups, like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, where you meet people in recovery.
- Mindfulness-based relapse prevention combines self-care and strategies to avoid relapse.
Dealing with a dual diagnosis can be daunting, especially if the problem hasn't been diagnosed. Still, that doesn't mean that there is no hope. Proper medication and therapy in the right institution can help with recovery. Remember that it’s always essential to stay sober during the treatment process. Also, don’t get discouraged if you relapse; it’s all part of the process. With hard work, you can get back on the recovery exercise.
Find residential dual diagnosis treatment at Faith Recovery in Beverly Hills, California.