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A dual diagnosis occurs when an individual suffers from a combination of an addiction and a mental health disorder, both of which can be established independently from the other. It is common for two or more disorders to be co-occurring, as mental health disorders burden the individual with uncontrollable feelings that can be extremely uncomfortable to experience. Many individuals may decide to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol instead of seeking professional help. Drugs and alcohol also alter an individual’s moods, thoughts, behavior and brain chemistry; therefore, either issue can develop first. The co-occurring disorders might be equal in severity or one could be milder. The level of treatment needed for each disorder can be determined by a doctor or mental health professional.

When someone has co-occurring disorders, it is vital that he or she seek a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis. Unfortunately, many facilities only treat one disorder or do not acknowledge that a person’s disorders are related, which can cause more damage. It has been proven that those dealing with these issues are less likely to recover from either disorder when they are treated in separate (and often contradictory) styles of care.

In order for the treatment of a mental health disorder to be effective, one must typically stop using alcohol and drugs. If his or her addiction is not being addressed in treatment for the disorder, then a huge piece of the puzzle is missing. Not only is it not going to be as effective, but it can be dangerous. When medications prescribed for treatment of mental health disorders are mixed with alcohol and/or non-prescription drugs, the results can be deadly.

However, if one is in treatment for a dual diagnosis and has been prescribed medications, it is important to follow the advice of the treatment team. One can still be “clean and sober” while taking medication that was prescribed to them for treatment of a mental health disorder. It is not the same as relying on drugs or alcohol as an escape. However, it is important for someone in treatment to never stop taking medication or change a dosage of medication without first speaking to his or her doctor.

Did You know

According to a recent study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), individuals with mood or anxiety disorders are two times as likely as the general population to suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Those with severe mental health disorders are four times as likely to abuse alcohol (four drinks per day), 3.5 times as likely to smoke marijuana regularly (21 times per year) and 4.6 times more likely to use heavy drugs (10 times in a lifetime). One of the most significant statistics found was that individuals with severe mental health issues were 5.1 times more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

The distinct correlation between mental health issues and drug or alcohol abuse is evident. At least 8.4 million adults in the United States have both a mental and substance abuse disorder, according to NIDA. Mood disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders and anxiety disorders are most commonly diagnosed in combination with an addiction.

Specifically, the most common co-occurring disorders are:

  • Depression and cocaine addiction
  • Panic disorder and alcohol addiction
  • Schizophrenia and alcoholism or polydrug addiction
  • Borderline personality disorder and episodic polydrug abuse

These correlations make sense as someone who suffers from depression looking to self-medicate would turn to a stimulant (e.g. cocaine) for temporary relief; likewise, someone who is in a manic episode of bipolar disorder might seek a depressant (e.g. alcohol) for the same effect. However, once the initial and temporary effects of drugs and alcohol have worn off, the individual is left with exacerbated symptoms of his or her mental health disorder. This encourages the individual to again seek refuge in his or her substance of choice, perpetuating the cycle. For this reason, many disorders go undiagnosed. It is important that both disorders be diagnosed independently from the other since there can be a variety of symptoms attributed to one disorder that actually resulted from the other.

Mental health illnesses do not discriminate. They can affect anyone, as can substance abuse disorders. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, more than half of individuals with depression or bipolar disorder use alcohol and/or drugs as a means to self-medicate. Turning to substance abuse as a coping skill is extremely dangerous, yet often feels like the only option to someone suffering from a mental health disorder.

For those struggling with a dual diagnosis and looking for help, you can find assistance with the Florida Dual Diagnosis Helpline. Call 866-337-7631 for more information on where to get a proper diagnosis and the treatment you need to regain control of your life.