In substance use disorder treatment, a person with a dual diagnosis has a mental health disorder and substance use disorder. Also called a co-occurring disorder, a dual diagnosis means a person must be treated for both diagnoses to address their substance use and have the greatest chance for success in recovery.
A person with a dual diagnosis may have symptoms of a mental health disorder long before they develop substance use issues. However, symptoms of mental health disorders may develop from long-term substance abuse. Common mental health disorders in a dual diagnosis include:
People with a dual diagnosis may have more complications in treatment and require therapy targeted toward both of the diagnoses keeping them in active addiction. Recovery for someone with a dual diagnosis may require extra work but is achievable and attainable.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
In substance abuse and mental health treatment, a dual diagnosis means that a person meets the criteria for a substance use disorder but also one or more mental health disorders. People with a dual diagnosis may present for treatment for either one of the disorders.
Diagnoses that commonly occur with substance abuse disorder include:
Major Depressive Disorder
Depression causes people to feel worthless, hopeless, and filled with emotional pain. Depression can make a person unable to function in many aspects of their life. A very common condition, depression can cause symptoms such as:
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with these disorders have severe worry, distress, and sometimes physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat and dizziness.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to function, and some people turn to substances to self-medicate. When treated by a clinician, anxiety disorders may respond well to both medication and therapy.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A strong association exists between a history of trauma and substance abuse. People with PTSD struggle with the aftermath of a traumatic experience and may abuse substances to cope with nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. These experiences disrupt their lives and can cause them pain and anguish.
People may turn to substance abuse when their PTSD becomes too much to cope with, and they need relief from the painful symptoms. In treatment, people with PTSD respond to medication, but they also require intensive therapy to address their trauma. Although some people believe PTSD results from combat experience or a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of violence can also lead to PTSD
People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of depression and episodes of mania (Bipolar I) or hypomania (Bipolar II). Depressive episodes exhibit similar symptoms of major depressive disorder. During a manic episode, individuals may engage in risky behaviors and have an abnormal amount of energy. They may also experience irritability, impatience and may overreact to minor issues.
While people with Bipolar I have manic episodes that can lead to psychotic behavior and hospitalization, people with Bipolar II have episodes of hypomania, which is less intense, although symptoms can be similar. In both types of the disorder, treatment will include a combination of medications and therapy.
Personality disorders can significantly impact a person’s life, but they may not know they struggle with a mental health disorder. Some individuals who struggle with personality disorders may have a history of emotional instability, constant relationship conflict, and self-harming behaviors.
People with personality disorders may turn to substance abuse to self-medicate, sometimes for the disorder itself and sometimes for the problems the disorder has caused. Personality disorders can be challenging to diagnose and treat, but research shows that therapy helps reduce the symptoms of the disorder, making recovery achievable.
Dual Diagnosis and Treatment
Some people with a dual diagnosis know they have a problem with substance abuse but do not know they have a mental health disorder. For many of these people, undiagnosed mental health disorders pushed them to self-medicate with substances to manage their mental and emotional pain.
For some people, the stressors that result from substance abuse have created severe anxiety, and sometimes people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from traumatic events during their addiction.
Whether substance abuse disorder leads to a mental health disorder or vice versa, both require simultaneous treatment for the best results.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), treating dual diagnosis patients for both conditions at the same time produces better results than treating the disorders separately. The two diagnoses tend to intertwine, meaning treating one without the other increases the risk of relapse.
Treating both diagnoses may require different levels of monitoring during detox and inpatient treatment. For example, people with more common anxiety or depressive disorders may detox safely with normal levels of monitoring. However, a person with a personality disorder or psychotic symptoms may require total medical, psychiatric care during their detox.
Untreated mental health issues may drive a person back to self-medicating, making simultaneous treatment crucial. At Everlast Recovery Centers we ensure that clients suffering from a dual diagnosis receive the proper treatment because we understand that they will have a better chance of recovery and living a healthy, sober life.