Dual Diagnosis – How Mental Health and Drug Addiction Correlate

by Janet Brown
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As published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 37% of the people who struggle with alcohol use also have at least one mental health problem. The same is true for 53% of the people who struggle with drug use. This correlation is referred to as co-occurring disorder and requires a dual diagnosis.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when a person gets diagnosed with two disorders at the same time. These two disorders can be mental health disorders and substance use disorders. 

The substance can be alcohol or drugs, but either way, it will be referred to as a dual diagnosis if it is in conjunction with a substance use problem or an addiction problem. Approximately half of the people with substance use disorders also have mental disorders at some point in their life, and vice versa.

Examples of Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders do not necessarily always mean drug addiction and depression. They can also mean someone is addicted to codeine, and they have a social anxiety disorder. Codeine addiction is a substance use disorder, and social anxiety disorder is a mental health problem.

Likewise, a patient with schizophrenia who struggles with alcohol addiction also has co-occurring disorders and is liable to a dual diagnosis. Being addicted to cocaine and having antisocial disorder also means the person has co-occurring disorders.

Furthermore, multiple substance use disorders may also coincide with multiple mental health disorders. While this would make the sum of disorders more than two, it will still be considered a dual diagnosis. For example, a patient with alcohol AND a heroin addiction who suffers from depression AND anxiety is still someone with a dual diagnosis.

Reasons for Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many reasons why two disorders may occur together, specifically a substance use disorder and a mental disorder. According to researchers, there are possibly three main reasons why these two occur at the same time. Nobody can know for a definitive reason that one always comes before the other, but they do influence each other.

Mental health problems may influence or aid in the development of a substance use disorder. For example, someone who struggles with depression may use drugs such as cocaine to feel euphoric, since depression tends to make people feel sad and lethargic. 

Euphoric and energising drugs are often very potent and therefore have a higher addictive potential. People who take these drugs may not always necessarily do so as means to self-medicate, but rather to forget their pain as well.

The opposite can also be true in some cases. Meaning, substance use problems may influence or aid in the development of a mental disorder. This can happen in multiple ways. Some substances change brain chemistry, and as such people may become more susceptible to mental health problems than before. 

Furthermore, when people try to stop taking the substance they are dependent on, their withdrawal symptoms may include mental health problems. These symptoms can develop into chronic diseases over time if they aren’t handled by professionals.

Lastly, the third reason is that both mental disorders and substance use disorders have risk factors in common. Influences such as genetics, trauma, and stress may play a role in co-occurring disorders.

How Rehab Treats Dual Diagnosis

Dedicated addiction treatment centers have professional doctors who decide the treatment plan of the client. 

‘We pride ourselves in the tailored treatment provided by our team in California,’ says URP Drug Rehab CA’s CEO Bryan Alzate. ‘During the admissions process, we will interview each client, review their medical history, which includes mental health, and discuss with them the best route. We also consult with any colleagues who may be currently treating or prescribing medications with our client’s approval, of course.’

Depending on the severity of the client’s diagnosis, inpatient rehab can prescribe medications for addiction and for mental illnesses. Clients are encouraged to slowly wean off their addictive substance so that their mental health situation is not worsened due to severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Furthermore, clinical psychologists and behavioural therapists on-site help clients deal with both disorders at the same time. Staying away from triggers helps avoid relapsing, and the comforting environment of 24/7 care helps patients get better quicker.

Other Treatments for Dual Diagnosis

While rehab is one of the main treatments for a dual diagnosis, it is not necessarily the only one. Clients’ treatment plans depend on a variety of different factors such as their age, the severity of their addiction and mental illness, their location, and other factors.

The most common treatment for dual diagnosis that isn’t in-patient rehabilitation is a combination of outpatient medication and behavioural therapy. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar groups aid in not just becoming sober, but also staying sober. Such groups help people share their daily life struggles and teach the members how to avoid their triggers in normal life.

The most important aspect of treatment for dual diagnosis is that neither disorder should be neglected. Both mental health problems and substance use or addiction problems should be taken hand-in-hand, with treatments catering to both of them. If not, the chances of one alleviating put the client at risk for worse health.

Summary

Mental health and drug addiction correlate in many ways. When this correlation leads to a person dealing with both of these disorders, they are called co-occurring disorders.

  • A dual diagnosis refers to co-occurring disorders such as (but not limited to) alcohol addiction and depression at the same time. Any substance use disorder and any mental health disorder may occur together.
  • A co-occurring disorder may develop because both disorders have the same risk factors. It is also possible for mental health disorders to worsen substance use and vice versa.
  • Rehab centres have a very holistic way of treating dual diagnosis. Inpatient facilities keep track of both disorders at the same time, and integrated therapies and medications are used in the client’s treatment plan.
  • Dual diagnosis can also be treated through outpatient treatment, including medications and behavioural therapy. Counselling in support group meetings such as AA meetings may also help people learn how to adapt to daily life without substances.
  • The treatment for co-occurring disorders must not neglect either disorder at any given time. If both the problems aren’t dealt with, one may worsen the other and put the client at risk.

Help for co-occurring disorders is available in the form of dual diagnosis treatment. If you know anyone who may need it, direct them to the right channels, so they can better their health.

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