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Dual Diagnosis
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Dual Diagnosis

It is not uncommon for a substance addiction to co-occur with a mental illness; this is known as a dual diagnosis. Until recent years dual diagnosis was not recognized as disorder, but the illness is far more widespread than once believed. About half of those with a drug addiction and a third of alcoholics suffer from a dual diagnosis. On the other hand, approximately a third of those who are affected by any type of mental illness and half of those who suffer from a serious mental disorder suffer from a co-occurring disorder.


A co-occurring disorder does not occur in one particular way. There are two main ways in which a dual diagnosis will occur. Someone who suffers from a mental illness may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. On the contrary, substance abuse often worsens mental illness, and even may have the ability to cause the onset of a mental condition that did not exist previously. Regardless of how the dual diagnosis occurred, it is a complex disease that requires separate, yet integrated treatment for both conditions. If you or a loved one suffers from a co-occurring disorder, it is important to seek professional assistance and treatment for the illness.



Types of Mental Illnesses Accompanying a Co-Occurring Disorder


While there are a variety of illnesses that can accompany a drug or alcohol addiction, some of the most common ones include:


Anxiety is a mental disorder associated with a difficulty coping with stress and irrational fears. Those who suffer from anxiety may alleviate these feelings of unrest with drugs or alcohol.


Depression is accompanied with feeling of intense sadness and hopelessness. People often experience these negative emotions for no apparent reason and many may turn to substances to temporarily suppress these feelings and lighten their mood.


Eating disorders can include illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to improve their self-esteem and body image. In addition to this, they may also abuse substances in order to suppress their appetite and/or alleviate feelings of self-hate.


Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) is characterized by obsessive thoughts that lead to repetitive, ritualistic, and compulsive behaviors. Someone who suffers from OCD could turn to substance abuse to lessen the intensity of these compulsions.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is experienced by those who have witnessed or experienced a serious, traumatic event. Most of the time PTSD is accompanied by insomnia, anxiety, flashbacks/nightmares, and general emotional instability. Drugs or alcohol are used to temporarily combat these symptoms.


Treating a Co-Occurring Disorder


The best treatment for a co-occurring disorder will take place in a treatment center specializing in dual diagnosis. Due to the fact that both disorders must be treated both separately and together, professional help should be sought out for the best chances of a successful recovery. A treatment center with specialized dual diagnosis programs will offer collaborative services for both the mental illness and addiction.


Some of these dual diagnosis treatment therapies include:


Psychotherapy has also been referred to as “talk therapy.” It takes place in both family, individual, and group settings. It allows for patients to gain awareness of the attitudes, thought processes, and beliefs surrounding their addiction or addictions. The addict’s issues are addressed by developing healthy coping strategies to replace harmful thoughts and behaviors.


Behavioral Management is another way in which to help addicts change their harmful behaviors. Therapies associated with behavioral management include cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management therapies. During these therapy sessions, patients are encouraged to develop their own motivation to recover.


Pharmacotherapy is a form of therapy in which prescription medications are used to control the symptoms associated with mental illness.


Dual Diagnosis Aftercare


An addiction treatment center specializing in co-occurring disorders will help each patient develop an aftercare plan that will promote long-term recovery. Ongoing therapy and a lifelong commitment to support groups will help addicts remain self-aware and develop positive coping strategies for the years to come.