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Understanding a Dual Diagnosis

The Connection Between Mental Illness And Substance Abuse

Known colloquially as drug addiction, substance use disorders are mental health conditions defined by a compulsion to abuse substances like drugs or alcohol despite the negative consequences drugs or alcohol abuse are causing to such a person.

As many as half of all people who struggle with drug abuse or alcohol abuse also struggle with one or more mental health disorders. Mental health disorders are themselves defined as health conditions that involve changes in mood, thinking, or behavior, and are also sometimes referred to as psychiatric disorders.

Some examples of mental illnesses include depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and personality disorders.

Someone who struggles with both substance abuse and mental health disorders is referred to as having a co occurring or “comorbid” mental health issue, or as having dual diagnoses. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 6.6 million Americans have a serious mental health condition as well as an addiction, with the mental illness more often preceding the substance abuse than the other way around.

This dual diagnosis phenomenon comes about largely because people with mental health disorders often abuse substances to help them to cope with the symptoms of their mental health issues, which is known as self medication. For instance, someone with an anxiety disorder may become a drug abuser or alcohol abuser to “treat” the anxiety caused by their mental health disorder and suppress their feelings of fear in situations where that fear is inappropriate and causing them harm.

People with other mental disorders, such as a mood disorder like bipolar disorder or depression, may use alcohol or other drugs to lift them up when they feel sad or to calm them down when they feel manic. In the short term, this may “work” in that it brings relief from the symptoms of a mental illness or allows someone to be more functional, but, over time, as the person becomes emotionally and potentially physically dependent on drugs or alcohol, the drug addiction or alcohol dependence becomes its own problem.

Over time, the biochemical effects of substance abuse can exacerbate symptoms of the underlying mental health disorder while the effects of alcohol abuse or drug addiction work to interfere with their social and professional functioning, the stress of which can also exacerbate any co occurring disorders.

However, the effects of substance use or withdrawal symptoms can also mimic mental illnesses, and, in certain cases, prolonged substance use disorder can also be a contributing cause to another mental health disorder, which can complicate the issue of making a dual diagnosis.

For instance, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression could arise because of the negative life consequences of substance abuse, which may in turn trigger even more substance abuse to deal with those negative feelings. It can become almost a chicken or the egg scenario, where the two disorders become so entangled that it’s impossible to tell which aspect of the dual diagnoses is causing the other.

Often, it is also harder for people with dual diagnoses to achieve recovery. This is because, even if they are able to curtail their substance abuse and achieve some period of sobriety, if their mental health issues are left unchanged, the whole cycle is apt to repeat itself.

But, with proper treatment, the symptoms of both mental health problems and substance use disorder can be controlled with the appropriate therapy or medication, and a full, satisfying, and lasting recovery is possible.

Drug or alcohol addiction should generally be treated simultaneously with any other psychiatric problems that may be complicating it, and most substance abuse treatment centers offer dual diagnosis treatment as well, which is known as integrated treatment. How dual diagnoses are dealt with and what you might expect to find in dual diagnosis treatment will be explored in greater detail below.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The first part of any dual diagnosis treatment plan is generally detoxification. Length of detox can vary depending on the type, amount, and frequency of substance abuse, but generally will not last more than one or two weeks.

Once the person has physically stabilized, more intensive dual diagnosis treatment can begin in the form of intensive therapy, which will help a patient to understand the connection between their dual diagnoses, and to learn other, healthier ways they can cope with their mental disorder. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy is routinely used in substance abuse treatment as well as to treat anxiety and depression, and involves reframing reflexive negative thoughts with more realistic and neutral ones.

Some individuals with dual diagnosis tend to respond well to group therapy, which may be tailored to other alcohol abusers or drug abusers that suffer from the same co occurring disorder. Patients may also be sorted by age groups, sex, or other demographic characteristics that can help them connect to others who share a similar dual diagnosis experience.

Group therapy may be based on the teachings of twelve step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, which would allow a patient to continue their recovery work after dual diagnosis treatment by regularly attending meetings. This is important because dual diagnosis treatment does not end when a person leaves an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program; it will likely involve continual therapy and/or medication to manage one’s mental health disorder as well as active engagement with the recovery community, which is why the support system that these groups provide is so critical.

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Treatment At Reco Intensive

Though understanding dual diagnosis and achieving addiction recovery is no easy task, proper treatment is absolutely essential. If substance abuse is left untreated and a person’s circumstances are left unchanged, addiction can lead to irreversible physical as well as mental health consequences, or, in the case of overdose, even death.

Located in sunny Delray Beach, Reco Intensive is a respected substance abuse treatment center well versed in dual diagnosis treatment. Our holistic treatment plan addresses any co occurring mental illness that a patient may present with, as well as provides them with the emotional, physical, and spiritual tools that they need to conquer substance use and achieve full recovery.

We are accredited by many reputable organizations, including the National Institute of Health, and a member of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration and many other similarly trustworthy coalitions.

If you or a family member is currently struggling with an addiction complicated by mental illness, feel free to call us anytime at 844.955.3042 to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment at Reco Intensive. There’s no time like the present to begin the treatment process and get back on the road to improved mental health, freedom from addiction, and a better life and brighter future.

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