Last updated on September 21st, 2019
Facing addiction is never an easy endeavor. For those who suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition, recovery becomes even more difficult. With an excess of stigma surrounding both addiction and mental health, it can be difficult for dual diagnosis individuals to receive the help that they desperately need to get well. However, there is hope for those suffering from addiction and mental health as there is a multitude of treatment options available and steps that can be taken towards sobriety.
Comorbidity Between Addiction and Mental Health
The relationship between addiction and mental health conditions is strong as the National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that roughly half of those who have a mental disorder are also affected by substance abuse.
- 37% of people with an alcohol use disorder have a mental illness
- 53% of drug abusers have at least one severe mental illness
- 50% of individuals who suffer from a severe mental health condition abuse drugs or alcohol
While many people who have a substance use disorder will develop a mental illness, those who suffer from mental illness are more likely to begin using drugs.
What Comes First: Addiction or Mental Illness
Addiction and mental health conditions are closely linked but develop in no particular order. Regardless of which condition develops first, both conditions exacerbate one another.
It is common for individuals who suffer from mental illness, whether it is formally diagnosed or not, to begin self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of their mental health. Although drugs and alcohol may be able to mask some symptoms in the beginning and allow the user to escape from reality, symptoms will often be worsened in the long run. Prolonged alcohol or drug abuse can make symptoms of mental health far worse, and in some cases, even trigger new symptoms.
On the other hand, if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, it can increase their risk of developing a mental health disorder. As drug and alcohol abuse begins to make changes to the structure and function of the brain, mental health issues such as paranoia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can begin to present themselves.
For those who were never diagnosed with mental illness, it can be difficult to determine which condition came first. Either way, it is important to diagnose co-occurring disorders appropriately to provide an individual with the treatment that they need.
Diagnosing Co-occurring Disorders
Sometimes, co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose due to overlapping symptoms. A person who is suffering from addiction may have severe mood swings due to their drug dependence, but it could also be indicative of an underlying bipolar disorder. Many symptoms of mental health can be masked by addiction, and when left untreated, this can lead to unique obstacles in maintaining one’s sobriety.
Some signs that may indicate a co-occurring disorder include:
- Using drugs or alcohol in an obsessive manner to cope with memories, feelings, or mood
- Feeling depressed or anxious when sober
- Erratic behavior and mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Changes in appetite
- Extreme paranoia and hallucinations
- Problems maintaining functional relationships
- Inability to control emotions
- Withdrawal from family and friends
Symptoms of co-occurring disorders will vary from person to person depending on which mental illness the individual is suffering from. Since individuals who suffer from both addiction and mental health may struggle in recovery, it is essential that individuals receive dual diagnosis treatment in order to have the tools needed to maintain sobriety.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis treatment is a comprehensive, integrated approach to treat an individual as a whole by using addiction therapy intertwined with mental health therapy. A client receiving this integrated approach will be best equipped to maintain their sobriety and cope with their mental health after treatment.
Detox is often the first step in dual diagnosis therapy as removing the substances from the body is imperative before starting therapy. Detox can help individuals complete the withdrawal process as safe and as comfortable as possible.
After the detox process is complete, the next step involves therapy and medications. Behavioral, individual, and group therapy are often used in dual diagnosis treatment as well as specified therapy geared toward their specific mental illness. In addition, psychiatric medication can be prescribed to help diminish some of the individual’s mental health issues. Once the individual has completed their treatment program, some form of aftercare is ideal.
Treating co-occurring disorders in dual diagnosis therapy is essential for those suffering to learn the tools needed to stay sober. With overlapping symptoms that exacerbate both disorders, it can be challenging to diagnose, but diagnosis and treatment is the first step to allow individuals suffering to be able to maintain their sobriety.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. She works with places like Clarksville Rehab to raise awareness. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. Follow her on Twitter @Cassidy_Webb41