Dual Diagnosis

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Mental health and substance abuse disorders affect millions of Americans every year. Some people struggling with the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health disorder may use drugs or alcohol in order to cope with their symptoms. Conversely, drug or alcohol abuse can trigger the onset of mental illness.

What is a Dual Diagnosis Disorder

When someone is addicted to drugs, alcohol — or both — and also has a mental health disorder, they have a dual diagnosis disorder. As many as half of people seeking addiction treatment have a co-occuring mental health concern. Often one disorder will mask the symptoms of the other, which can make it difficult to determine which is the primary condition.

There is no specific combination of mental health disorder and type of substance abuse that is more prevalent than another. A person can have depression and be addicted to alcohol. A person with anxiety may be have a marijuana use disorder. Someone with bipolar disorder may become addicted to crystal meth. 

Risk Factors for Dual Diagnosis 

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Researchers are not entirely sure why someone will develop a mental health disorder. However, having a mental health disorder increases the odds that a person will also have a substance use disorder. Additionally, there are indicators that will provide clues about the likelihood for someone developing a mental illness during their lives, which may contribute to the risk factors for dual diagnosis. 

Family history

If there is a history of mental health disorders in the individual’s family, there is an increased chance of developing the same disorder. However, epigenetic regulation and environmental conditions play a role in the onset of mental health disorders.

Mental illness

Certain mental illness, like bipolar disorder, can make an individual more prone to engage in risky behavior, like drug experimentation or binge drinking, that can lead to addiction. Additionally, the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health concerns can be difficult to live with day-to-day, which may lead some individuals to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Substance abuse

Regular use of drugs or alcohol actually change how the brain behaves. As result neurotransmitters that are responsible for the regulation of moods, like serotonin and norepinephrine, may be affected, leading to the onset of disorders like depression or anxiety. Additionally, substance abuse can make symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or anxiety worse, which can lead to increased drug or alcohol use.

Dual Diagnosis Statistics

  • It is estimated that one in every four Americans lives with a mental health disorder.
  • According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 9.5 million Americans have a dual diagnosis disorder.
  • Men are more likely to receive a dual diagnosis than women, but the number of women who have a dual diagnosis has risen steadily over the past decade.
  • Dual diagnosis disorders affect individuals across the age spectrum. 38% of people with a dual diagnosis disorder are between the ages of 18 and 35; approximately 7% are over the age of 50.
  • Certain populations are at an increased risk of developing a dual diagnosis disorder. These include: veterans, people with chronic disease, and individuals that live at or below the poverty line.

Signs of a Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Dual diagnosis disorders can be particularly difficult to diagnose, because there is a great deal of similarity between symptoms of certain mental health disorders and standalone substance use disorders. Generally speaking, an individual will receive a dual diagnosis when they enter into treatment, after receiving a full assessment from qualified addiction treatment specialists. During the intake exam, a specialist will gather the person’s full medical and psychological history, as well as look for signs of drug or alcohol use.

Signs of a substance use disorder include:

  • Binge drinking
  • Frequent use of drugs or alcohol
  • Inability to stop using drugs or alcohol, despite negative consequences to the person’s physical and mental health, relationships, and other areas of their life
  • Problems in important life areas: social, relationships, school, or work
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including intestinal distress, shaking, cold sweats, and irritability
  • Mood swings and personality changes
  • Drastic weight fluctuations
  • Social isolation

Mental health disorders are generally classified as either mood disorder or personality disorders. Depending on the mental illness diagnosis, and type of disorder, symptoms will vary but can include:

  • Lethargy, fatigue, or unusual exhaustion
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Confusion
  • Irritability, anger, uncontrollable outbursts
  • Appetite changes and losing or gaining weight
  • Fear, avoidance, and paranoia
  • Lack of interest in activities the person usually enjoys
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated

Treating a dual diagnosis disorder requires addressing both the addiction and mental health disorder, in order to most effectively help the individual. However, the symptoms of the mental health disorder may be exacerbated due to drug and alcohol abuse; substance use may be more extreme due to underlying mental health concerns. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, and how long the person has been addicted to drugs or alcohol — treatment may take longer and be more intense.

Dual diagnosis is treated by developing a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into consideration the individual’s unique needs, specific to the mental health diagnosis as well as the type of drugs they are addicted to. Many plans use an integrated approach that involves a combination of medication and evidence-based therapies, such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Group therapy
  • EMDR therapy
  • 12-Step programming
  • Anger management and life skills training
  • Other adjunct holistic approaches, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness

Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Texas

If you or someone you love are struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse, it is important that you get treatment that effectively addresses and treats both disorders. The compassionate and caring treatment specialists at ARM Dallas understand the unique needs of people with a dual diagnosis, and will work with you to develop integrated individualized plans that will lay foundation for long-lasting recovery from both addiction and co-occuring mental health disorders. To find out more about our dual diagnosis treatment in Texas, contact us today.

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