Dual Diagnosis: Mental Illness and Addiction

Dual diagnosis is defined as a drug or alcohol addiction that occurs alongside at least one mental illness.  Getting a dual diagnosis can be kind of tricky.  Often in people who suffer from addiction as well as mental illness, the one problem fuels the other.  The addiction may bring out the symptoms of the mental illness or the mental illness may be one of the causes of the addiction.  Treatment can be difficult as well. Sometimes people with both a mental illness and an addiction are treated for one and not the other.  For example, a person who exhibits signs of an addiction will be treated in an addiction recovery program and then released because the addiction is dealt with.  Since the mental illness has not been dealt with, the person in question will exhibit symptoms of mental illness and then turn back to addiction in order to self-medicate.  The reverse is also true. People can be treated for a mental illness and will go through withdrawal because they do not have access to their drug of choice.  But once given a clean bill of health, they may continue with the addiction that did not receive attention while he or she was being treated for the mental illness.

Because of all of this, dual diagnosis is receiving a lot of attention directed at the specific needs of the dual diagnosis patient.  One of the elements of dual diagnosis that is being looked at is which mental illnesses occur most often with addiction.  There are several that come up fairly frequently.

Addiction and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is the most common dual diagnosis mental illness.  People who suffer from bipolar disorder are at a very high risk for abusing drugs or alcohol.  During a manic cycle, these people often engage in risky behavior.  This includes the excessive use of drug and alcohol.  Alcohol abuse is more frequently associated with the depressive cycle of bipolar disorder.  Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish which symptoms are the result of the bipolar disorder and which symptoms are the result of the addiction.

Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is very often a symptom of drug or alcohol addiction.  These addictions will leave the user feeling paranoid and unable to appropriately cope with stress.  On the other side, anxiety can occur first, and the sufferer may turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the anxiety.  A person is more likely to receive a dual diagnosis from the anxiety occurring first and the addiction occurring second than the other way around.  Often, is the anxiety is occurring as a result of the addiction, the anxiety will go away when the addiction does.  If the anxiety occurred first, than it will need to be treated in addition to the addiction.

Addiction and Depression

The combination of addiction and depression is usually all about self-medication.  On one side, some people can develop depression in response to an addiction.  They may feel hopeless or stressed because of the lying or the risky behavior associated with addiction.  They may even turn to more drugs or alcohol for relief thus fueling the addiction even further.  On the other side, like with anxiety disorders, the drug or alcohol abuse may be a way of coping with the effects of depression.  Either way, the addiction is “treating” the depression.  And both ways could be considered for a dual diagnosis.

Addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is very commonly a disorder worthy of dual diagnosis.  PTSD is caused when something traumatic happens near or to a person.  There are many different kinds of symptoms associated with PTSD such as insomnia, aches and pains, flashbacks, general paranoia and anxiety, and dissociative episodes.  Many sufferers turn to drugs or alcohol to help themselves deal with some of these symptoms and end up with an addiction problem.  As the sufferers of PTSD struggle to deal with the mental illness, their addiction builds.

Getting the right kind of help when you suffer from a dual diagnosis is essential.  Take some time to make the treatment decisions for yourself or for your loved one seriously and with a lot of thought given to the kinds of mental illnesses that are involved.  While dual diagnosis may be more difficult to treat, it is not impossible.  There is hope.

Comments are closed.