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What is a Dual Diagnosis?

July 2, 2018


Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe someone who has both a substance use disorder and a mental illness occurring at the same time. For many people throughout the world, dual diagnosis is a part of their every day lives.

The chicken and egg theory can be applied to dual diagnosis, as it can be hard to distinguish which came first: the substance use disorder or the mental illness. It is just as possible for someone to develop a substance use disorder as a way of coping with a mental illness as it is for someone to have a mental illness and then uses drugs and/or alcohol to manage the symptoms of the illness. Either way, when both a mental illness and a substance use disorder are combined, the symptoms associated with the mental illness become worse, and the symptoms of the substance use disorder become magnified.

When dual diagnosis is treated, it takes a comprehensive approach to tackle both issues at the same time. While sometimes challenging, dual diagnosis recovery is very possible.

Dual Diagnosis Statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 17.5 million adults throughout America have a mental illness. They also report that of the 17.5 million, 4 million of them have a dual diagnosis.  Additional statistics related to dual diagnosis include the following:

  • Over 50% of those with a dual diagnosis do not seek any form of treatment for their condition
  • 34% of adults in America with a dual diagnosis get psychological help, but only 2% participate in a drug treatment program and 12% get simultaneous treatment for both issues.
  • Roughly 2.4% of Americans in the workforce are diagnosed with a dual diagnosis
  • Men are more likely to experience a dual diagnosis than women

What are the Symptoms Of Dual Diagnosis?

The symptoms that an individual can experience when he or she has a dual diagnosis can vary based on the kind of substances he or she is abusing and the type of mental health condition he or she has. However, there are many baseline symptoms for dual diagnosis, including the following:

  • Problems keeping up with daily responsibilities and tasks
  • Abnormally impulsive behavior
  • Sudden, unexplained behavioral changes
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Poor job performance
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Delusional thinking
  • Participating in dangerous behaviors when under the influence

These symptoms can be extremely disturbing and potentially dangerous, or worse, deadly. If you or someone you love is experiencing these symptoms, it is imperative to seek help immediately.

Dual Diagnosis

Common Dual Diagnosis Associated With Substance Abuse

With any mental illness, there is an increased risk for an individual to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, and vice versa. Some of the most common mental illness tied to dual diagnosis include the following:

  • Borderline personality disorder – Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is by far one of the most common mental illnesses to co-occur with a substance use disorder. In fact, approximately two-thirds of those with BPD abuse substances.
  • Depression – Given the symptoms associated with depression (e.g. lack of motivation, sadness, hopelessness, changes in sleep patterns, etc.), it is extremely common for those with depression to turn to the use of drugs and/or alcohol to self-medicate those powerful responses.
  • Anxiety – When anxiety is occurring, whether it is generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety, it can be extremely challenging to find ways to relax the mind. Sadly, many of those who do have anxiety start dabbling in drinking and drugging to help calm those intrusive and upsetting feelings.
  • Eating disorders – Both women and men suffer from eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder. Even though the drive behind the eating disorder might vary, those who have eating disorders often utilize drugs and/or alcohol in a manner that supports their eating patterns. For example, some individuals might abuse cocaine to help curb their appetites. Others might go on a binge and then drink to mute the emotions of embarrassment and shame they feel afterward.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – Individuals with PTSD notoriously battle dual diagnosis, primarily because of how their mental health becomes impacted upon experiencing traumatic events. To block out memories of trauma, drugs, and alcohol might be used. Others might use substances to help them get to sleep without the stress and anxiety brought on by PTSD.

People can experience a dual diagnosis with any type of substance and any type of mental illness. This condition is very common, as millions of people grapple with it in the United States alone. There is safe and effective treatment available for those who are ready to get control of their symptoms and end their disordered lifestyles.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is very treatable, however, it is important to receive treatment specific to this condition. Some treatment centers offer dual diagnosis treatment, however, it is more focused on treating one condition more than the other. Studies show that when both conditions are treated at the same time, individuals achieve more long-term success than those who do not.

Some of the most important things to look for in a dual diagnosis treatment program include the following:

  • Treatment for both conditions that will occur at the same time
  • The use and understanding of specific medications that can help treat mental illness, such as antidepressants.
  • Inclusivity of the family, friends, or other loved ones in the individual’s treatment plan
  • Trained professionals who are able to provide effective yet supportive services throughout the duration of one’s treatment

As previously mentioned, the majority of individuals living with a dual diagnosis do not obtain treatment for it. In some cases, individuals are either not clear-headed enough to receive treatment, while others might not believe they have a problem. Some people still fear what others might think of them if they begin participating in treatment. However, living with a dual diagnosis can be incredibly painful and many times deadly. It is possible to reach out for help before it is too late.

Get Help Right Now

More and more people are losing their lives to dual diagnosis, specifically because they did not receive the right treatment for their condition. Dual diagnosis is something that can be managed a number of different ways, such as therapy and medication. The answer to a dual diagnosis is treatment.

If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and also has one or more mental illness, it is time to reach out and get help right away. Doing so can not only help an individual live a happier life, but it can also save his or her life. Do not waste one more day. Contact us right now. We can help.

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