Many people assert that using substances makes them feel “normal”. In fact, some people believe that substance abuse actually makes them more functional overall. Absent of healthy and sustainable ways for relieving their mental or emotional distress, they use prescription pills, illicit drugs, or alcohol to self-treat. When these individuals go to rehab, they’re often diagnosed with two separate mental health disorders at once. This is known as a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis treatment is designed to provide a single, all-encompassing solution for recovering addicts who are living with either substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD), and a simultaneously occurring mental health issue such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or general anxiety disorder.
In dual diagnosis treatment, people have the opportunity to eliminate their primary motivation for substance abuse: unmanaged pain. Sadly, there are many people throughout the world who live with untreated mental health disorders and who regularly self-treat their symptoms with disastrous results. Research has consistently shown that have co-occurring disorders identified and addressed in rehab greatly minimizes the likelihood of relapse. When people in recovery are able to achieve and maintain general mood balance in healthy ways, they have an easier time abstaining, and an easier time confronting and dealing with real-world challenges.
The Relationship Between Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction
Co-occurring disorders are incredibly common. Not only do people develop addiction as the result of treating their emotional and mental distress in harmful ways, but there are also people who begin exhibiting the symptoms of mental health disorders after prolonged periods of substance abuse. For instance, although you or your loved one may have never exhibited the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder in the past, these symptoms could begin to rear their heads after several months or years of heavy drug or alcohol use. Co-occurring disorders can be both a catalyst for addiction and the consequence of addiction’s progressive effects on the chemistry and functioning of the brain.
Using drugs or alcohol to self-treat a co-occurring disorder provides only short-term relief. A person who’s using alcohol or illicit substances to manage their symptoms may feel “normal” while intoxicated or high. However, these initial improvements invariably prove short-lived. Soon, more of a substance becomes necessary for inciting the same feelings of normalcy as tolerance is built. Moreover, the ongoing effects of substance abuse on the brain’s chemistry will eventually cause the self-treated symptoms to worsen. Symptoms that were once uncomfortable without substances can become downright intolerable during prolonged periods of abstinence.
Whether co-occurring disorders are a catalyst for addiction or a consequence of it, their symptoms are always heightened by continued substance abuse. Efforts to self-treat when dealing with rising tolerance levels and increasingly severe symptoms can additionally set the stage for overdose, self-harm, and other serious developments.
Among some of the most common mental health disorders diagnosed in dual diagnosis treatment are:
- Panic disorder
- General anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Major depressive disorder
Some people with co-occurring disorders are already receiving treatment for their mental distress. However, the treatments they’re receiving aren’t sustainable and may become increasingly less effective over time. This is frequently the case with panic disorder and general anxiety disorder. When benzodiazepine medications are prescribed to treat these conditions, these powerful and fast-acting drugs provide complete and immediate relief. However, they’re also highly addictive and should not be used for longer than three to four weeks.
Even though benzodiazepine medications may be initially prescribed by doctors, they can still set the stage for addiction. People with increasing tolerance to these drugs often start taking more than their doctors have recommended, or they may begin stealing pills, doctor shopping, purchasing benzodiazepine drugs illegally, or borrowing medication from family members and friends. Mood swings, aggressive drug-seeking behaviors, and heightened symptoms are common among people who’ve had their mental disorders medically diagnosed, but who haven’t been given safe and sustainable strategies for managing them.
In rehab, patients are given multiple tools for managing their illnesses. When needed, non-habit-forming medications are prescribed such as:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Anti-psychotic medications
- Mood stabilizing drugs
Non-medication strategies are leveraged as well, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing among other therapy types. Patients are guided in:
- Increasing their distress tolerance
- Learning to proactively manage their stress
- Developing healthier coping skills
With these and other tools, dual diagnosis treatment helps people with co-occurring disorders build stable foundations for their recoveries. In so doing, they also greatly reduce the risk of relapse. If you or someone you care about is living with an untreated co-occurring disorder, we can help. Call us today at 855-334-6120. Our counselors are always standing by.