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The phenomenon of persons who struggle with both a mental health issue and substance abuse, or Dual Diagnosis is actually very common. When an addiction co-occurs with a psychological disorder, often the patient may not realize the existence of the mental issues due to the overwhelming dominance of the substance abuse and its specific behaviors. The reality is that alcohol and drug misuse is often complicated and exaggerated by existing mental health struggles such as depression, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder. Many who struggle with mental health will look to self-medicate or reduce those symptoms by taking street drugs or consuming alcohol – which will accelerate the progression into addiction
Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis
In the simplest terms, the symptoms of drug abuse include intense urges to use the drug regularly and needing more of the drug over time. When mated with a mental health issue, the symptoms that may suggest a dual diagnosis will include mood changes that swing to extremes, confusion in thinking and problems concentrating. Along with isolation and thoughts of suicide, in addition to the many symptoms associated with the particular mental health diagnosis. The challenge of dual diagnosis in drug treatment programs arises when the same mental health symptoms associated with dual diagnosis, can also occur as a side effect of extreme drug use or heavy drinking – and will usually subside the longer the person remains abstinent.
Challenges of Dual Diagnosis in Drug Treatment
When mental illness and substance abuse occur together, the effects of the substance being abused can often disguise or counteract the underlying psychological condition. For instance, persons who may be dealing with anxiety-related disorders may gravitate towards relaxing drugs such as marijuana and opioids. Individuals that present symptoms of mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder tend to seek out drugs that make them feel good, such as cocaine, valium, or alcohol.
The mental disorder most strongly related to substance abuse is bipolar disorder, with some estimates putting the lifetime prevalence at 50-60%. This means that the probability of substance use and bipolar disorder occurring together is 50 to 60%.
In drug treatment programs, proper assessment and customized treatment protocols are needed to overcome the challenges of dual diagnosis which can include:
- Assessing persons whose substance abuse mimics a mental disorder such as Methamphetamine-induced psychosis
- Determining if a person is self-medicating a mental illness with drug use such as using heroin to relieve depression
- When prolonged substance abuse is creating a mental condition such as heavy drinking precipitating depression and psychosis
- When the environmental and behavioral effects of using causes extreme emotional and physical stress and leads to suicidal thoughts
- When a person’s mental genetics and/or brain chemistry contributes to both substance abuse and mental health issues