Understanding Dual Diagnosis
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that almost half of the individuals dealing with a mental illness will also struggle with a substance abuse problem. The relationship between mental illness and substance use disorder is complex.
Comorbidity for individuals in treatment for a substance abuse problem can present some additional challenges to their addiction recovery. However, you or your loved one can still successfully live a healthy life free from substance misuse with the right treatment plan.
What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis, or comorbidity, is the presence of both a substance use disorder and one or more mental health disorders.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mental illness is a health condition that involves “changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior.”
Diagnosing a mental health disorder alongside substance abuse can be challenging. Some symptoms of mental health issues can also present as side effects of drug or alcohol use, such as depression, agitation, or even psychosis.
Mental Health Issues Common with Addiction
In some cases, an individual with an existing mental health condition may develop substance use disorder due to self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of their illness. For instance, someone struggling with PTSD or an anxiety disorder may use opioids or cannabis to lessen their feelings of anxiety or help them sleep.
While substance abuse doesn’t necessarily cause mental illness, drugs and alcohol can also trigger or exacerbate existing mental health issues. For example, ongoing research has identified a correlation between certain drug use and first-time episodes of schizophrenia.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports the following mental health conditions commonly co-occur alongside substance use disorder:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Eating Disorders
Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Dual diagnosis treatment is a bit different than alcohol or drug addiction treatment. While you will still have the option to choose between inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, your recovery will also include special attention to your behavioral health.
The critical difference lies in treating both conditions separately, being sure to address the issues of your mental health disorder apart from treating your substance use disorder.
Types of Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
Psychiatry, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is commonly used to treat alcohol abuse/drug abuse but is also very effective for the treatment of mental health issues that occur alongside substance abuse.
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can also help you address your addiction while providing a supportive environment.
Having a solid support system such as AA meetings to attend can help improve your mood, decrease isolation, and allow you to meet similar individuals who may also have a dual diagnosis. Hearing the stories of peers in recovery can encourage you and help you feel less alone.
Similarly, sober homes or halfway houses can also provide an ideal living situation for someone with a dual diagnosis. Together with other residents, you can learn from one another, celebrate your successes, and enjoy community resources to help you with your addiction recovery and mental health.
Challenges Around Dual Diagnosis
Many combinations can occur with a dual diagnosis, with different symptoms presenting and overlapping. Diagnosing each variation can be a challenge for medical professionals and require meticulous evaluation.
In addition to the difficulty of getting an accurate diagnosis, the challenge of dealing with substance use disorder on top of a mental health condition can seem overwhelming. However, many treatment programs now recognize the need for treating both disorders individually and can accommodate you or your loved one’s individual needs.
How to Support Someone with a Dual Diagnosis
Not sure how to help a family member or friend with a dual diagnosis? The first thing you can provide is nonjudgemental support and encouragement. Having a solid support system during addiction recovery is crucial to long-term recovery.
You can also provide your loved one with an outlet for healthy activities unrelated to drug or alcohol use. Even something as simple as encouraging them to join you for a walk or spending time together can help them feel less isolated as they work on their sobriety and recovery.
Getting Help for a Dual Diagnosis
You can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) locator to find treatment centers near you to provide the support you need to manage your substance use disorder and mental health conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Dual Diagnosis
What does dual diagnosis mean?
A dual diagnosis is the occurrence of substance use disorder alongside one or more mental health conditions.
How is dual diagnosis treated?
Typically a patient with a co-occurring disorder will receive treatment for their addiction and mental illness separately. While the two can be linked, treatment should focus on each issue individually.
How do I get tested for dual diagnosis?
If you suspect you might have a co-occurring disorder, you can speak to your clinician or a mental health professional to request an evaluation.