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Dual Diagnosis

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

The term dual diagnosis refers to co-existing substance abuse and mental health issues in individuals. According to research done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 45% of individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction also have a mental health disorder. Since both addiction and mental health issues begin in the brain, the connection between the two seems to make sense. Individuals with pre-existing mental disorders may be more at risk for developing a substance addiction over the course of their lives. The opposite might be true, although sometimes the figures are harder to pinpoint as addiction can contribute to mental disorder development without any clear delineation.

While there is a great deal of research being conducted on dual diagnosis, there are some theories as to why mental illness and addiction play into each other. Some of these include the idea that certain drugs actually contribute existing mental health issues. Another is that drugs make once manageable mental health issues more noticeable. A third is that individuals often use substances to self-medicate for mental health problems.

Recognizing Dual Diagnosis

Diagnosing the co-existence of mental illness and drug addiction can be tricky, especially with certain mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. There are studies that have shown that there are several general factors that are important to recognize when evaluating an individual’s mental health risk for dual diagnosis. One is a hereditary weakness that might make an individual more prone to both addiction and mental health issues. Another risk factor appears to be the changes in the brain caused by substance addiction. Many neurological changes from addiction occur in the same area of the brain affected by mental illness. Thirdly, there are external factors such as stress and trauma that have been shown to be linked as triggers for substance abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness.

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Common Mental Health Issues in Dual Diagnosis

Depression

 

Individuals who are experiencing depression often turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape from their painful thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. Depression can weaken the immune system, causing illnesses which may actually drive substance use and abuse. People suffering from depression may experience feelings of worthlessness, guilt, tearfulness, and anxiety. These can often drive people to seek relief anywhere they can find it, which can lead to excessive drinking and dangerous drug use. Drug addiction can feed into depression, just as depression can trigger drug addiction.

Anxiety

Anxiety can cause individuals to suffer from panic attacks, which can cause severe emotional reactions with physical symptoms. The triggers for these panic attacks can vary between individuals, but the impact of the events can cause a compounding of anxiety. Sometimes the fear that their anxiety will cause uncomfortable public incidents is enough to drive individuals to attempt drugs or alcohol use to control symptoms. The result is often the opposite, as drugs and alcohol can contribute to the intensity of some anxiety symptoms.

 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

For many individuals who have lived through extremely traumatic events, the fallout can be lifelong. Recurring nightmares and flashbacks, combined with anxiety can cause individuals to feel that they are losing control over their minds and their lives. Seeking refuge in drugs and alcohol is quite common in those who have experienced PTSD following military combat, victims of violent assaults and those who have lived through childhood abuse. As the symptoms of PTSD overwhelm individuals, the stress caused can seem insurmountable. The result can be that naturally occurring endorphins, chemicals that promote well-being and reduce painful sensations, can actually drop in production. This drop can cause those suffering from endorphin withdrawal to seek ways to self-medicate.

 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder is considered an anxiety disorder. OCD can cause individuals to experience repetitive thoughts that can cause them to be fearful of things most would consider irrational. Individuals with OCD might display symptoms of anxiety about disorder or cleanliness which may cause them to repeatedly wash or organize. The repetitive behaviors can become so destructive for an individual’s life, that they are unable to hold down a job or maintain friendships. The desire to find relief from these compulsions can drive OCD patients to find ways to make life easier, and feed into drug or alcohol abuse and addiction.

 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are defined as disordered eating behavior resulting from low self-esteem combined with distorted body image. Compulsive eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia have been on the rise in our society focused on physical appearance. The link between eating disorders and addiction lie in the commonalties of the two. Quite often, both share common risk factors such as genetics, stress and brain imbalances. Both also involve compulsive behaviors. The treatment for eating disorders and addictions can be quite complex.

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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder also referred to as manic depression, is often a co-occurring disorder of drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder have a chemical inability to maintain mood and behavior swings, causing manic behavior often followed by weeks of deep depression. These swings are detrimental to an individual’s ability to remain employed or maintain personal relationships when not medicated.  There does not seem to be an easy explanation for the link between addiction and bipolar disorder. Often, self-medication for the symptoms of bipolar disorder is a contributing factor to substance abuse.

 

Treatment in Dual Diagnosis

When individuals with co-occurring disorders seek treatment for drug addiction, the treatment model is adjusted. There are many rehab centers in Southern California that treat heroin addiction and alcohol addiction, but not all drug rehab centers are equipped to handle the specific needs of clients struggling with dual diagnosis. Coastline Rehab Center has counselors on call to help families and clients with questions they might have about their addictions and mental health issues.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder also referred to as manic depression, is often a co-occurring disorder of drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder have a chemical inability to maintain mood and behavior swings, causing manic behavior often followed by weeks of deep depression. These swings are detrimental to an individual’s ability to remain employed or maintain personal relationships when not medicated.  There does not seem to be an easy explanation for the link between addiction and bipolar disorder. Often, self-medication for the symptoms of bipolar disorder is a contributing factor to substance abuse.

 

Treatment in Dual Diagnosis

When individuals with co-occurring disorders seek treatment for drug addiction, the treatment model is adjusted. There are many rehab centers in Southern California that treat heroin addiction and alcohol addiction, but not all drug rehab centers are equipped to handle the specific needs of clients struggling with dual diagnosis. Coastline Rehab Center has counselors on call to help families and clients with questions they might have about their addictions and mental health issues.

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