If you have both a mental health issue and a substance use disorder, that’s called a dual diagnosis. Having these two conditions side by side is actually common. In fact, 80% of those who suffer from addictions are also living with some kind of mental disorder.
Suppose that you have both these conditions, but you and your loved ones only notice substance abuse. You then decide to enter rehab, which deals with the addiction. After the rehab program is complete, they send you back home. But since you still have an underlying mental health problem, it will show up pretty soon. Your family would begin to notice and wonder what’s going on. Worse still, they might think that the rehab didn’t work. They might even think it created another problem in place of the addiction.
Had you received treatments for a dual diagnosis, your recovery journey would have been a lot more successful. This is why dual diagnosis is becoming increasingly important today.
What is substance use disorder?
Mental health professionals use the term “substance use disorder” to refer to drug addiction. The substance could be either legal or illegal – from alcohol to heroin. In many cases, the addictive substances are prescription drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines.
When you suffer from substance use disorder, you have this unhealthy obsession for drugs. You’d spend most of your time and money on them, neglecting other things like work, school, and family. In other words, you could no longer live normally without drugs.
What is a mental health issue?
Your mind can also get “sick” like your physical body. Mental health issues are conditions that affect your mind, which in turn disrupt your thought patterns, emotions, and behavior.
If you suffer from mental disorders, you would behave quite differently than you normally would. These behavior changes would also impact your life, career, and relationships with others.
What came first?
This is like a “chicken or egg” question. It’s really hard to pinpoint if the addiction or the mental disorder came first. You may have a mental disorder that drove you to use drugs, which you then became addicted to. On the other hand, you could have been suffering from substance abuse that led you to develop a mental disorder later on.
Another challenge for professionals is in diagnosing the conditions. Some symptoms of substance use disorder are similar to those of certain mental disorders. Thus, they might misdiagnose substance abuse as a mental disorder or vice versa, especially when both conditions are present.
Also, people with severe cases of mental disorders might not see drug addiction as a problem. They may justify their drug use as legitimate, especially if the drugs are prescribed for their mental health conditions.
What mental disorders usually occur alongside substance abuse?
Though there are many mental disorders, a few are common in dual diagnosis cases. These are:
1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
People with ADHD find it really hard to focus on one thing at a time. It’s also difficult for them to pay attention. Additionally, they are hyperactive most of the time.
Those with ADHD are often prescribed with stimulants. If they consistently take the drugs, they might end up addicted to them.
2. Anxiety Disorder
People suffering from anxiety disorder often worry extensively. So much so that it interferes with their daily lives. They may also experience extremely high stress levels, restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Some may also have insomnia.
Many of the symptoms of anxiety disorder mirror those of several kinds of addictive drugs. Thus, it’s challenging for mental health professionals to make an accurate diagnosis.
Some people with anxiety disorder may also have a co-occurring addiction to benzodiazepines. These drugs are usually prescribed for people with this condition. If misused, addiction can follow.
People with depression usually feel down nearly all the time. They would lack the motivation to do anything, feel extremely sad, and lose interest in things they used to enjoy.
These people are often prescribed antidepressants, which they can inadvertently become addicted to. Some of them may also resort to alcohol to cope with the depressing emotions.
One thing that makes dual diagnosis with depression hard is the symptoms are almost the same as those of some substance addictions.
4. Bipolar Disorder
People with bipolar disorder often switch between two diametrically opposed moods: either a high-energy manic state or a low-energy depressive state. They can go from one state to another quite randomly and abruptly.
Medications for bipolar disorder can also become addictive. Also, some would take alcohol to numb the effects of the disorder, which can also lead to an addiction.
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
People with PTSD have often experienced a severely traumatic event some time in their lives. This mental disorder is common in soldiers, but it can happen to others as well. Anything that reminds them of the past trauma can trigger stressful emotional and physical reactions, like nightmares, flashbacks, and even insomnia.
Some people with PTSD use drugs to try and shut out those traumatic memories. That can lead to an addiction. Also, some people experience traumatic events because of using drugs.
Treatments for dual diagnosis
Dual diagnosis cases can require more time and effort to treat than substance abuse alone. The best treatments are done through inpatient rehab facilities, where you can receive focused, in-depth care. Today, a lot of specialized dual diagnosis treatment centers have sprung up as well.
The recovery process can be a huge challenge too. Along the way, your mental health issues may grow worse before they get better. Substance abuse makes them worse, so the addiction must first be dealt with.
Once you’re no longer dependent on these substances, your mental health problem can be addressed. This may mean you’d need to spend more time in rehab. But it’s worth the extra time, as your recovery is ensured.
It’s also a good idea to look for specialists in treating dual diagnosis cases. They are the best professionals to treat you.