A dual diagnosis is when an individual has a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time. The disorders frequently co-occur for a long period of time before they are diagnosed, and they usually need a treatment program that combines treatment for both conditions to have long-lasting recovery.
Which Mental Health Conditions Are Common with Substance Abuse?
People who have dual diagnosis disorders may occur more frequently than you imagine. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about half of the people diagnosed with a serious mental illness also have a substance use disorder. Additionally, about 40% of people who abuse alcohol and over half (53%) of people who abuse drugs are also dealing with at least one mental health disorder.
The following conditions are the most common to occur with substance abuse disorders:
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders May Lead to One Another
The link between mental illness and substance abuse can be seen as a two-way road. They can both lead to one another in different situations. It doesn’t matter which comes first.
Mental illness can lead to substance abuse due to:
Self-medicating – Individuals with untreated mental health disorders often turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to treat the mental illness on their own.
Increased exposure to substances – Sometimes, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be around substance use. One example is young people with behavior disorders may be more likely to use substances when they hang around with people using drugs or alcohol.
More likely to experiment with substances – Individuals suffering from mental health problems, especially those with a disorder that has self-control and impulsivity issues, may be more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol.
Substance use disorders may also lead to mental illness due to:
Environmental factors: Drug or alcohol abuse can cause an individual to experience more stress and have less support to cope with it, which often leads to the development of mental health problems.
Biological factors: Drug and alcohol use affect brain chemistry of the brain, which can reveal, cause, or intensify mental health issues.
What Are the Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis Disorders?
Dealing with dual diagnosis disorders can have emotional, physical, and social effects, including:
People who have a dual diagnosis commonly feel frustrated or distressed by their disorders, which can lead to increased stress, disconnection or isolation from others, lower self-esteem, guilt, and shame. All these feelings can contribute to a person’s emotional health declining and increase the risk of anxiety and depression.
The physical effects of dual diagnosis disorders vary depending on the type of mental health issue and the substance being used – but they can be quite serious. However, no matter which disorder or which substance, when there is a dual diagnosis, each disorder may worsen the negative effects of the other, which only amplifies the symptoms of both. With dual diagnosis disorders, sufferers are more likely to neglect their health and self-care, which can also intensify physical issues.
Interpersonal relationships are often challenging to maintain when someone has a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder. When a dual diagnosis occurs, it can be twice as difficult.
What Are the Underlying Factors That Contribute to Dual Diagnosis Disorders?
There are some characteristics that are believed to contribute to someone developing both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem.
- Personality – Personality traits like novelty-seeking and risk-taking can relate to drug or alcohol abuse and mental disorders.
- Genetics – Genetics creates certain dispositions that may make an individual more likely to develop a mental health issue or to use drugs or alcohol. Both pave the way for a substance use disorder.
- Brain chemistry – Dopamine, a chemical in the brain, is affected by both substance use and some mental disorders. Changes in the brain due to one disorder can cause the development of the other and vice versa.
- Environmental factors – Some environmental factors may contribute to dual diagnosis disorders as well. Experiencing traumatic events, high-stress levels, and exposure to substances during childhood all seem to be related to someone developing dual diagnosis disorders.
How is a Dual Diagnosis Disorder Treated?
Treatment for people with dual diagnosis disorders must integrate both disorders in the recovery process instead of treating them individually. Just as both disorders have intertwined, treatment and recovery must as well. While treatment for dual diagnosis disorders is often complicated, finding the right dual diagnosis treatment center can lead to successful, long-term recovery.
Residential Treatment for Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
When someone has a mental illness and a substance use disorder, the best option for treatment is a residential program where both conditions are treated at the same time. Many treatment facility centers have the experience and are equipped to treat dual diagnosis disorders.
Residential treatment involves living on-site at the treatment center, receiving the appropriate therapies, education, and around-the-clock support and care that are needed to learn to live and cope differently. Typically, patients in residential care have access to medical care, psychiatric care, addiction and mental health education, and traditional addiction treatments. These are valuable skills that they can take with them as they begin living at home again.
Paying for Dual Diagnosis Treatment
For most people who want treatment for dual diagnosis disorders, the fear of how expensive treatment will be is the biggest fear and deterrent. Fortunately, there are various types of treatment centers and programs with different amenities, specialized treatments, and therapies. You can find luxury treatment programs that can cost more than $1,000 per day, as well as low-cost and even free treatment centers. Treatment programs that are less expensive offer the same quality of treatment as those that are more expensive. Typically, the higher costing centers simply offer more amenities (gourmet meals, massages, etc.) and specific therapies (art, music, equine, yoga, meditation, etc.).
Most people who go to dual diagnosis treatment use health insurance to cover part of the cost of the program. The exact amount that is covered depends on the person’s specific insurance plan.
For those individuals who don’t have health insurance, they can still seek a treatment program. There are many low-cost treatment centers that also treat dual diagnosis disorders. While there may be a wait for a spot in these types of treatment programs, waiting is far better than not getting any help at all.
Getting Help for Dual Diagnosis Disorders
Addiction and some mental health disorders are designated as chronic, progressive conditions. Even so, many people with these disorders have been able to learn to manage the symptoms with the proper treatment. They are able to turn their lives around and live happy, fulling lives. Because each person who is diagnosed with dual diagnoses is unique, so must the treatment be personalized. Achieving remission from dual diagnosis disorders requires treatment that addresses both the substance use disorder and the mental illness at the same time.