Many people living with substance use disorder have an underlying mental health issue. This is known as dual diagnosis. In some instances, the pain and mood swings caused by an untreated mental health disorder are catalysts for substance use. People turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve symptoms that they don’t understand and that exist nearly all the time. Although substance use has unpleasant consequences across all areas of their lives, they rely on drugs or alcohol for self-treatment.
For others, the development of mental health conditions may be a direct result of changes within brain chemistry and brain functioning that are caused by substance abuse. In either case, identifying and treating both substance abuse and mental health disorders at once is essential for successful recovery.
What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean?
Addiction has many possible underlying causes. Some people are more genetically predisposed to addiction. For these individuals, the feelings of euphoria, confidence, and relaxation that substance use creates are greatly heightened. Brain changes occur more rapidly and are more extreme. Moreover, the depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of “coming down” or sobering up are equally extreme. For other people, addiction is largely tied to feelings of low self-worth, a need to fit in, or past trauma.
However, many people develop addiction as the result of their efforts to self-treat undiagnosed mental health disorders. They might be living with:
- Major depressive disorder
- General anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Bipolar disorder
They may find that using certain prescribed or illicit substances temporarily alleviates their symptoms. Given that their symptoms always recur whenever they stop using, recreational drug or alcohol use rapidly progresses to regular use, and regular use eventually becomes abuse.
Worse still, because drug use affects the brain’s chemistry, many self-treated mental health disorders become increasingly severe over time. This causes people to use more of the substances that they’re self-treating with. It can also result in new forms of substance abuse, new mental health symptoms, and overdose.
At its most basic, dual diagnosis is having both substance use disorder and any mental health issue that has yet to be identified and managed by a medical professional. Until an underlying mental health disorder is known and treated, people in recovery will always be tempted to return to substance use for relief. In dual diagnosis treatment, patients learn safe, effective, and sustainable ways to manage their mental health disorders.
Why Do Addiction and Mental Health Issues Happen Together?
Co-occurring disorders are incredibly common. Although the symptoms of an untreated mental health issue can cause some people to self-treat with drugs or alcohol, it isn’t always possible to know which issue developed first. Some people may be more predisposed to both mental health issues and addiction due to genetics, past traumas, or high levels of stress.
Living with an untreated mental health disorder can be incredibly unpleasant. People often use drugs or alcohol to alleviate their discomfort or to establish short-term feelings of normalcy. Using drugs or alcohol might make them feel more comfortable socially. However, even when no mental health issues existed before addiction, prolonged substance use can change the brain in ways that increase the likelihood of certain mental health disorders.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders with Addiction
Among some of the most common co-occurring disorders are borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety. It is also common for people with eating disorders to develop substance use disorder. Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine suppress the appetite. These substances are frequently used by people who are fixated on losing weight, keeping weight off, or maintaining abnormally high levels of activity.
However, any mental health issue that causes persistent discomfort can place a person at high risk of substance abuse if it is not properly managed. When people cannot find healthy, sustainable ways of relieving their pain, they often seek unconventional solutions.
Past traumas and post-traumatic stress disorder are frequently treated in dual diagnosis rehab. Many people believe themselves to be far more resilient and far less impacted by their traumatic experiences than they are.
Co-occurring disorders can also affect men and women differently. Whereas many women feel comfortable talking about their feelings and discomfort, many men feel obligated to internalize or conceal their pain. Elderly adults can struggle similarly. Whether due to societal pressure or personal beliefs, when people are not able to talk about the symptoms that they’re experiencing, they’re also unlikely to seek professional help.
Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Patients
Dual diagnosis rehab is essential for anyone with a co-occurring disorder. Although dual diagnosis rehab includes all the elements of general addiction treatment such as:
- Group therapy
- Private therapy
- Stress management activities
and more, it additionally includes efforts to identify and treat existing mental health disorders. Certain disorders can be effectively managed with long-term lifestyle changes. These can include better nutrition, supplementation for addressing nutritional deficiencies, physical exercise, immersion therapy, stress management, and talk therapy.
For others, medication management is required. When patients in addiction treatment programs are prescribed medication for their co-occurring disorders, doctors choose non-habit-forming drugs that are unlikely to interfere with their recoveries.
With dual diagnosis rehab, the need for continuing treatment for co-occurring disorders is stressed. Whether taking medication for a mental health disorder, avoiding high-stress situations, or making specific health or lifestyle changes are recommended, patients must remain consistent in managing their disorders. When treatment of underlying mental health disorders is stopped, a recovering addict’s risk of relapse greatly increases.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we recognize the importance of dual diagnosis treatment. In 2017 alone, more than 8.5 million people within the US were living with co-occurring mental health disorders. In our efforts to give each of our patients the best chance at successful, long-term addiction recovery, we make dual diagnosis treatment a key part of our programs.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we can help. Call us now to speak with one of our admissions counselors about our dual diagnosis program.