Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health and Addiction

People struggling with addiction overwhelmingly struggle with mental health disorders simultaneously; recognizing and treating both is called dual diagnosis.

Historically, addiction and mental health conditions have carried stigmas and treatment programs focused on treating one instead of both, which was often unsuccessful.

In the past 30 years, experts have realized how deeply linked mental health and addiction are; and the importance of treating both issues and reducing risk factors associated with long-term drug abuse and mental illness.

Substance use disorders and mental illness can interact and become reactive, worsening both conditions over time.

Treating co-occurring disorders with a dual diagnosis program takes an integrated treatment approach to tackle both and ensure the highest chances of successful recovery.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis means a person has both a mental disorder or personality disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder requiring treatment.

Addiction and mental health conditions often feed off each other. A person might turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their mental illness symptoms, but the side effects of drugs might exacerbate the mental illness once the initial effects have worn off.

Undiagnosed co-occurring disorders can perpetuate a vicious cycle that quickly leads to drug abuse or alcohol abuse.

Treatment for both disorders simultaneously, at the same treatment facility, can reduce the risk of relapse and give you a better quality of life after treatment.

Co-occurring Disorders

The coexistence of a substance use disorder and mental illness in a person is called co-occurring disorders. Diagnosing both disorders is called dual diagnosis.

Sometimes the mental health condition led to the substance use disorder, sometimes vice versa. Regardless of which came first, the co-occurring disorders become intertwined and require an integrated treatment approach.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, 9.5 million adults in the United States have co-occurring mental disorders and substance use disorders.

Shockingly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found only 9.1% of people with co-occurring disorders received treatment for both substance abuse and mental health.

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Dual Diagnosis Examples

A dual diagnosis program is essential to establish an effective long-term treatment and recovery plan.

Mental illness and substance abuse disorders sometimes present similar symptoms at the same time.

Some of the most common disorders that coexist with substance use disorder diagnosed through dual diagnosis include:

Depression— Depression and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol can intensify depression once the substances wear off.

Bipolar Disorder— Bipolar disorder is generally characterized by intense emotional highs and lows. Almost half of the people diagnosed with bipolar disorder struggle with drug addiction or alcohol abuse. Because of the contrasting moods experienced during bipolar episodes, uppers and downers are often taken in equal amounts.

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)— Anxiety, when the mind and sometimes heart race uncontrollably, often leads people to drink or use other downers to calm themselves down. Prescription medications for anxiety can also be highly addictive.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)— People with ADHD mostly admit to being addicted to stimulants, prescription medications, or otherwise, to manage their symptoms.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)— The symptoms of PTSD are different for every person. External factors that trigger episodes are also unique based on the trauma that caused it. People living with PTSD often use their drink or drug of choice to subdue their symptoms and forget their trauma.

Eating Disorders— There is a wide range of eating disorder diagnoses. Still, typically people with eating disorders have multiple co-occurring mental health disorders, as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. People with eating disorders generally tend to like stimulants that suppress their appetites and give them more energy to burn calories.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)— People with OCD usually self-medicate to escape feelings of anxiety and depression along with uncontrollable compulsions and intrusive thoughts.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)— Bipolar disorder and BPD are frequently co-occurring, and BPD also has intense ups and downs that people use substances to treat.

Schizophrenia— The severity and symptoms of schizophrenia vary and are often similar to long-term drug and alcohol addiction symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations. Using drugs and alcohol can only make schizophrenic symptoms worse.

co-occuring disorders

Assessment Tools for Co-occurring Disorders

Diagnosing co-occurring disorders requires professionals to use established assessment tools for recognized mental illnesses and personality disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a handbook medical professionals use to diagnose mental disorders, including substance use disorder. Under the supervision of the National Institutes of Health, medical professionals combine their research to establish standard definitions and criteria for consistent and reliable diagnoses and treatment options. As new information is available, the manual is updated.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t contain an official dual-diagnosis model, but calls for one to be established are increasing.

The DSM-5 does recognize alcohol-induced mental disorders, which are temporary symptoms of mental health conditions that show up when a person is severely intoxicated or going through withdrawal symptoms.

By providing a widely established, standardized dual diagnosis DSM-5 screening process, more people would receive a dual diagnosis and be referred to the appropriate rehab centers, health services, and effective treatment options.

Dual Diagnosis Assessment

Because addiction is more apparent, and the immediate health concerns around substance abuse might overshadow mental illness symptoms and problems, professionals should always screen for co-occurring disorders and signs of a dual diagnosis.

People should be sober while they get screened for co-occurring disorders to make it easier to distinguish substance use disorder symptoms from mental health disorder symptoms.

Basic questions that may reveal signs of a dual-diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder include:

  • Do you use more drugs or alcohol when your anxiety and depression increase?
  • Do you have a hard time controlling your moods without resorting to drugs or alcohol?
  • Are you aware of a history of mental illness in your family?
  • Have you resorted to drugs or alcohol to deal with uncomfortable situations or unpleasant memories?
  • If you’ve previously received addiction treatment, do you think mental health played a part in your relapse?
  • Are you avoiding events and hobbies that you used to enjoy?
  • Are you acting impulsively or out of character more frequently?

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders is called integrated treatment.

Because co-occurring disorders can become intertwined and interdependent, treating a person with a dual diagnosis requires a careful, multi-layered approach.

A successful integrated treatment program seeks to separate mental health conditions and substance use disorders and give the patient tools to manage both individually.

As the importance of dual diagnosis became more widely recognized, the importance of creating spaces to treat both conditions simultaneously and providing education and tools for personal and professional success after treatment has grown.

Dual diagnosis rehab and treatment centers, such as Northridge Addiction Treatment Center that offer mental health treatment alongside substance use disorder therapies, are ideal for people with co-occurring disorders.

The integrated treatment combines different behavioral therapies, support groups, individual therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.

addiction treatment

Residential Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

Previously, people with co-occurring disorders had to go to one place to address their substance use and another to address their mental health issues; this made treatment hard for patients, even the most dedicated.

Studies have shown that receiving integrated treatment in one place like an inpatient treatment facility, with a coordinated care team where you can focus on all aspects of treatment, has the highest chances of lasting success.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center in California

At Northridge Addiction Treatment Center, we know the importance of treating mental health and substance use disorders and understanding their connection and impact.

NATC’s experienced medical staff uses proven techniques to develop a personalized plan with you to address the core of your addiction.

NATC offers a residential dual diagnosis treatment center in Los Angeles to receive intensive integrated treatment with multi-disciplinary and quality care, including medication-assisted treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and support groups like 12-step facilitation, to name a few.

When you walk out of NATC’s doors, you leave with the tools to continue healing your mind and body and skills to free yourself from old habits.

There’s enough stress around seeking treatment. We can take some of that pressure off by confidentially verifying your insurance for you. We’re here to help you take your first steps to a long-term, fulfilling journey to recovery.

Call us now to speak with our admissions specialists about any questions or concerns you may have. We look forward to putting your mind at ease and helping you start the path to a new life.

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