Overcoming drug or alcohol addiction is never easy but it can be even more difficult when you also struggle with mental health issues. The key to addressing co-occurring conditions is to seek treatment from a professional facility equipped to manage both. To learn more, read on.
Dual Diagnoses: What They Are, Factors Behind Them
A dual diagnosis refers to those individuals who suffer from a co-occurring disorder of mental illness and addiction to drugs or alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 50% of Americans with addictions also have at least one significant mental illness. Other important statistics include the following:
- More than 35% of alcoholics or individuals with an alcohol-related substance abuse problem have at least one mental illness
- Almost a third of all individuals with a mental illness also have a substance abuse problem
- Over 20% of inmates currently incarcerated in the United States prison system have co-occurring disorders
- People with dual diagnoses commit suicide at a rate much higher than those with just an addiction or mental illness alone
Certain mental health diagnoses are more prevalent among addicted individuals. They include the following:
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Panic anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress syndrome
- Eating disorders and schizophrenia
Experts at the Vanderbilt Addiction Center believe that unaddressed mental health needs are to blame for many cases of dual diagnosis. They assert that most people do not stumble into addiction because they get easily hooked on drugs, alcohol or sex. Rather, untreated psychiatric illnesses, neglected emotional wounds and/or underdeveloped coping strategies increase their vulnerability to substance abuse.
Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley agree. They studied the relationship between psychological characteristics and drug use in people from childhood through age eighteen. Their findings included the following:
- Problem drug use is a symptom of personal and social maladjustment, not the cause.
- Drug use can only be understood in the context of an individual’s personality structure and developmental history.
- Drug prevention efforts that focus on symptoms—not causes—are misguided.
One explanation for the link between addiction and mental health issues could be genetic. The gene that puts people at risk for disorders such as DPD may also increase their vulnerability to addiction. Regardless of etiology, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) maintains that addiction and mental health are connected in ways that include the following:
- People with untreated mental illness may self-medicate with painkillers to numb feelings of anxiety and depression invariably makes the condition worse
- Drugs and alcohol worsen underlying mental illnesses both during episodes of acute intoxication (i.e. a person with depression becomes suicidal) and withdrawal (a person with anxiety experiences panic attacks)
- Drugs and alcohol can cause a person without mental illness to experience the onset of symptoms for the first time
Co-occurring diagnoses create a vicious cycle. If a psychiatric condition worsens, chances of relapse escalate. If an addiction flares, a psychiatric condition often deteriorates. To recover, both conditions must be treated, most always with professional help.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Considerations
Abuse of drugs and alcohol always results in a worse prognosis for a person with mental illness. Active substance abusers are more likely to engage in behaviors that include the following:
- Refusal to follow through with treatment plans
- Lower likelihood of taking medications as directed consistently
- Higher incidence of missed appointments, which lead to more psychiatric hospitalizations
- Higher risk of engaging in impulsive and potentially violent acts
- Higher risk of suicide
- Lower likelihood of achieving lasting sobriety
Multiple studies have shown that psychiatric treatments are more effective in people who are not actively abusing drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, individuals who treat both conditions under the care of trained professionals are more likely to maintain recovery than people who only treat one.
Comprehensive treatment for co-occurring conditions often includes the following:
- A medical and psychiatric assessment
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Treatment usually lasts longer for dual-diagnosis individuals and includes a major focus on relapse prevention. Progress is also typically slower and more gradual. The sooner an affected person seeks help, the better his or her chances are for recovering.
Help for Addiction and Mental Health Problems
If you or someone you love struggles with cross-addiction, you are not alone. Recovery counselors at our toll-free 24-hour support line can guide you to wellness. You never have to go back to a life of addiction. Please call. Start your recovery today.