Dual Diagnosis: How Substance Abuse & Mental Illness Often Go Hand-In-Hand

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It’s estimated that about 45 percent of adults in the US have received a dual diagnosis in their life. About 23 percent of young adults in the US live with a dual diagnosis of mental disorder and have substance/alcohol abuse disorders. There’s a much higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder in those diagnosed with a mental illness than in someone who has not.

A dual diagnosis can seem scary and intimidating to treat. However, recovery and healing are possible with the correct information and tools. To learn more about what a dual diagnosis is and how it could be treated, continue reading.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

When someone receives a dual diagnosis, it is because they display the symptoms that belong to the two following health concerns:

  1. A developmental disability
  2. A mental health problem

In regards to treatment, a dual diagnosis usually calls for a single treatment plan for the two diagnoses as a pair rather than two separate healing regimens.

Examples of a Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis can be the combination of any mental illness or disorder with an addiction to any type of substance (e.g., drugs, alcohol.) However, some specific combinations are seen more frequently than others.

The more common dual diagnoses combos that get seen include:

  • Depression with an addiction to cocaine
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with an opioid dependence
  • Bipolar disorder with alcoholism
  • Schizophrenia with Marijuana/Cannabis abuse
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with stimulant abuse (e.g., Methamphetamine, Ecstasy)
  • Eating disorders (e.g., Anemia, Bulemia) with appetite suppressant misuse
  • Anxiety disorders with an addiction to benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan)

What Criteria Need to Get Met for a Dual Diagnosis

It’s often challenging to determine a dual diagnosis and what isn’t because both mental illnesses and substance abuse share many of the same symptoms. The doctor will also look at genetics and family history to help them make a proper diagnosis if there seem to be several overlapping symptoms.

Common overlapping symptoms in a dual diagnosis include:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleep)
  • Difficulty holding a job or trouble with school
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships because of behavior or mood swings
  • Dramatic shifts in moods or energy levels
  • Experiences delusions or hallucinations
  • Feelings of despair, hopelessness, and worthlessness that are intense and last a long time
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Reckless or risky behaviors
  • Severe tension or worry
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Violent outbursts
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Uses drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms for any of the above

Treatments for Dual Diagnoses

There is no single treatment for a dual diagnosis. Each one will be tailored to each patient to address and treat their specific symptoms.

Common things that the treatment of a dual diagnosis may have include:

  • Counseling
  • Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Assistance with finding work, maintaining finances, and tending to other regular functioning adult responsibilities
  • Medications

These treatments most often get done in a rehab center, which is one of the best options as it has professionals to properly supervise and assist in treating mental illness and recovery from substance abuse.