Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment

It is quite common for an individual who is caught in the grips of an addiction to simultaneously struggle with a mental illness. When a person is battling a substance abuse problem or chemical dependency and a mental health disorder or disorders at the same time, this is known as dual diagnosis. In many dual diagnosis cases, the abuse of substances often occurs as a means of self-medicating the distressing symptoms of the untreated disorders they are suffering from. When this type of unhealthy coping occurs, the symptoms of the untreated illness will likely become worse and perpetuate the vicious cycle of substance abuse.

Mental health conditions that frequently exist alongside substance use disorders include depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. When these illnesses do not receive the proper care required to manage their symptoms, sufferers often resort to drugs and/or alcohol, as these substances can be easily acquired and offer the false sense of relief that these individuals strive for. Additionally, those who have a genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses can begin to suffer from such disorders when substances are abused because of the manners in which drugs and alcohol interact with neurological chemicals and brain functioning.

Regardless of which manifested first, the presence of a substance use disorder in conjunction with a mental health disorder can cause a great deal of turmoil and devastation in the life of a person. For this reason, it is necessary to consider a treatment provider that is equipped to identify the presence of a mental health condition or conditions when a substance use disorder is present, effectively treat dual diagnosis, and provide the skills needed to manage mental illness symptoms and sustain recovery from addiction.

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Recent research states that over 17 million people in the United States meet diagnostic criteria for a mental illness or illnesses. Of that number, it is estimated that 25% of those individuals are also struggling with dual diagnosis concerns. Among those grappling with dual diagnosis, only half are believed to receive treatment. Additionally, it also believed that those who do receive treatment for dual diagnoses only receive care that addresses one of the disorders that they are suffering from, rather than comprehensive treatment that treats both substance use and mental health disorders.

Signs and Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

Because struggling with a dual diagnosis encompasses signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder(s) and a mental health condition(s), being able to identify and distinquish both can be somewhat difficult. Depending on the substance that is being abused, as well as the mental illness or illnesses that are present, it is important to consult with professionals who are adept at recognizing the presence of both types of conditions.

If you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from a dual diagnosis, it will be helpful to note the presence of the following signs and symptoms and then speak to a mental health or addictions professional to determine the most appropriate type and level of care for treatment:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Demonstrating overtly aggressive behaviors, which may be out of character for the individual
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Missing school or work
  • Engaging in risky or self-harming behaviors
  • Lying or omitting details about one’s activities or whereabouts
  • Demonstrating erratic or impulsive behaviors
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms:

  • Decline in hygiene
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Malnutrition
  • Appetite changes leading to weight loss or gain
  • Increase or decrease in energy levels
  • Vital organ damage
  • Injection sites due to drug use
  • Smelling of alcohol or another drug

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Abrupt changes in mood
  • Agitation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feelings of invincibility
  • Irritability
  • Depressed feelings
  • Unwarranted hostility
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Dual Diagnosis

Failing to seek treatment for dual diagnosis can ultimately lead to a wide range of negative outcomes for sufferers. Additionally, it is possible for a person to experience adversity if treatment is received, yet does not effectively care for both the presenting mental health and substance abuse problems. Below are examples of what can transpire if an individual does not receive proper treatment for dual diagnosis:

  • Declined academic performance
  • Academic failure
  • Expulsion from school
  • Declined occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties or ruin
  • Homelessness
  • Increased conflict with friends and/or family members
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Divorce
  • Increase in interaction with the legal system, which could lead to incarceration
  • Worsening of current mental health symptoms
  • Development of additional mental health concerns
  • Development of an addiction
  • Polysubstance use and abuse, which can also lead to addiction
  • Overall decline in mental and physical health
  • Overdose
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts, which could lead to death

Why Seek Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Suffering from a substance use disorder without the presence of a mental illness is widely known to cause havoc within an individual’s life. However, when a mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, a trauma-related disorder, or a combination of these conditions, is present at the same time as a chronic substance abuse problem, the resulting effects can, as it has been said above, be far-reaching and even more detrimental. Untreated dual diagnosis can keep a person trapped in the insidious cycle of substance abuse without any kind of relief from the mental anguish that is also plaguing the person. Thankfully, there are excellent treatment options that exist that can greatly improve the lives of those who will to achieve recovery from an addiction and healthily manage mental illness symptoms.

With a variety of treatment options available that do care for those with dual diagnosis, it may be difficult to decipher which is the best at treating individuals with such challenges. Residential treatment, for example, is one of the most effective forms of treatment that has helped countless adolescents and adults defeat their addictions and successfully manage mental health disorder symptoms. Within this type of treatment, individuals are able to receive all-inclusive care, which is facilitated by caring and dedicated professionals that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Addiction specialists and mental health experts lead individual, family, group, and experiential therapy sessions so that each and every treatment need can be met to the fullest extent. Psychiatrists and nurses are also on hand to provide invaluable support in the event a person requires the use of certain medications that aid in the healing and recovery processes. By partaking in residential treatment, those who are working to recover from an addiction to substances can lay the foundation for a bright and sober future with an improved ability to manage turmoil and stress caused by having a mental illness.

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