Dual Diagnosis: Mental Illness and Addiction

Dual Diagnosis: Mental Illness and AddictionIt is not at all unusual for addiction to drugs or alcohol to coincide with a mental illness. Unfortunately, many people have to cope with the dual diagnosis and it is no walk in the park. Coping with mental illness alone can be very difficult and trying to recover from addiction and to stay sober carries its own troubles and burdens. Each one is a disease of the brain and they influence each other in complex ways.

Which Comes First, the Drugs or the Illness?

There are different theories regarding the prevalence of people who suffer from both mental illness and also have a drug or alcohol addiction. The use of certain drugs can cause a mental illness to arise in a person who is already predisposed to it. In other words, drugs don’t exactly cause mental illness, but they can make it worse, increase the severity of the symptoms, or trigger symptoms in someone at risk for it.

For example, a teenager who has depression in her family history may experiment with drugs. Using the drugs may trigger her depression, when otherwise it may not have set in until later in life. Specific drugs like cocaine and other stimulants can cause feelings associated with mental illness like panic attacks, anxiety, and mania. Other drugs like methamphetamines can cause hallucinations in the user and may even cause that person to hear voices.

On the other hand, people who suffer from a mental illness may use drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. This means using a substance that alters the mood in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of the mental illness. Drugs and alcohol can very effectively numb the user from the bad feelings associated with their disease. But this is only a temporary and short-term fix. Ultimately, self-medication leads to substance abuse and often to full blown addiction.

Because addiction and mental illness are both diseases of the brain, they share neural pathways, brain chemicals, and signaling systems in common. This means that a person who is vulnerable to one type of brain disease is likely to be vulnerable to another. Whichever one comes first, these people are predisposed to both addiction and mental illness.

Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed as having a mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and is also an addict, there is hope. More and more researchers and physicians are figuring out ways to effectively treat these people for both of the brain diseases. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 53 percent of drug addicts and 37 percent of alcohol abusers have a concurrent mental illness. Because the numbers are so significant, it is important to find new ways of treating those with a dual diagnosis.

Most counselors, therapists, and doctors who work with addicts and with mental illness agree that an integrated approach to treatment is best. Recovery is more successful when the afflicted person is treated for both addiction and mental illness, rather than ignoring one and focusing on the other. In most cases, this means working with a team of experts as well as a support group to cover all aspects of a person’s brain diseases. It is very important for the addict who has a mental illness to understand the connection between the two. Knowledge is power, and knowing how one influences the other can make a real difference when it comes to recovery.

If you are looking for help or are assisting a loved one, look for facilities or therapists who are well-versed in integrated treatment. A rehab facility in which experts on both addiction and mental illness are available may be the best option. The facility should have experience treating those who suffer from both addiction and mental illness. Make sure you and your loved one are both comfortable with a rehab center before you commit to it. The patient should be involved in the decision-making, should be educated about the diseases, and should be taught how to cope after leaving rehab.