Mental Health and Addiction: Co-Occurring Disorders
When a person is living with a mental health concern and an addiction at the same time, they have a dual diagnosis. This category could be used to describe someone who has become depressed as a result of their alcohol use. It also applies to a person living with bipolar disorder who uses illegal drugs like heroin to self-medicate when they are experiencing a manic phase.
How Common is Dual Diagnosis?
Research has shown that people who have been diagnosed with anxiety or another type of mood disorder, including depression or bipolar disorder, are twice as likely to have an issue with addiction as well. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 10 million people in the US fit this profile; unfortunately, less than 10 percent of them receive treatment for both conditions.
Does Mental Illness or Addiction Come First?
There is no right answer to this question. In some instances, the symptoms of mental illness start to become apparent when a person is teen or young adult. Some people start to experience them in childhood. At the time, the young person may hide their symptoms, not knowing or understanding what they mean.
They may start drinking or using drugs as a way to control their symptoms or to cope with the way the mental illness makes them feel. If this pattern continues, it can develop into a full-blown addiction.
In some instances, long-term drug use can lead to mental illness. Someone with a substance abuse issue can develop symptoms of depression or anxiety due to their drug use. In rare instances, drug use may trigger psychotic episodes where the affected person experiences a break with reality.
How Dual Diagnosis is Treated
The first step in treating a person with a dual diagnosis is having them undergo detoxification (detox). This is the process where they are freed from the influence of chemicals. Once a client is clean, they can be examined by psychiatric experts to confirm their diagnosis.
At that point, an individual treatment plan is devised with the client’s input to take into account their past drug use, personal history and treatment goals. The client’s mental illness and addiction are treated simultaneously, for best results. Medications may be used to treat a client’s mental health concerns; these do not interfere with the addiction treatment, since the medical team is aware of the client’s history and does not prescribe any medicines that would interfere with their rehab efforts.