Understanding Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health And Addiction

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Substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders don’t always happen alone. In fact, around half of people who are affected by severe mental health disorders are also struggling with substance abuse. When a mental health and addiction disorder are both present, this is referred to as a dual diagnosis.

When an individual is struggling with addiction and a mental health disorder such as anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression, the situation becomes more complex to treat. Both illnesses have unique symptoms, but symptoms can also overlap and even exacerbate one another. Therefore, people struggling with a dual diagnosis often face even more severe repercussions from their illnesses. Take a closer look at dual-diagnosis treatment below.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment: Mental Health

Numerous mental health disorders are closely associated with addiction, including:

  • Bipolar disorder — Roughly 50% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Substances are often used to escape intense emotions and manic episodes.
  • Depression — Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs to feel better is common for people with depression. Unfortunately, using substances often makes depression symptoms worse.
  • Borderline personality disorder — More than two out of three people with borderline personality disorder also abuse substances. Substances may be used as a temporary solution to soothe erratic thoughts and behaviors.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — GAD affects almost 1 in 5 U.S. adults, and they are at a greater risk of substance abuse. As with other conditions, substance abuse is often related to trying to self-medicate.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment: Addiction

Trying to deal with mental health disorders commonly leads to an attempt to self-medicate or mask symptoms using alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, using substances to cope with illness symptoms can lead to an addiction and possibly even make existing mental health symptoms worse.

Further, having a substance abuse problem can also generate mental health disorder symptoms. For example, long-term use of methamphetamine could lead to depression and psychosis. Likewise, abusing alcohol can lead to anxiety and depression. Individuals with a dual diagnosis often have either:

  • Used substances to self-medicate mental illness symptoms
  • Used substances for long periods and experienced the development of a mental health disorder
  • Abused substances prescribed for a mental illness (such as benzodiazepines for anxiety) and developed a substance abuse disorder

With a dual diagnosis, it may not always be clear which disorder occurred first. The conditions can be so intertwined and symptoms so overlapping that it is often difficult to determine the originating disorder. During dual-diagnosis treatment, however, great care is taken to properly diagnose all existing disorders. The symptoms of both disorders are carefully dissected, so they can be properly addressed.

The Right Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Is a Ray of Hope 

Co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders can be more complex to overcome than either disorder alone, but the right dual-diagnosis treatment can mean everything. At Legacy Recovery Center, we combine evidence-backed addiction treatment and compassionate mental health support to create an individualized approached. Reach out to Legacy Recovery Center to discuss our multifaceted treatment options.