Co-Occurring Disorders & Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Many individuals who struggle with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol are also simultaneously suffering from symptoms of other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. When an individual suffers from both mental illness and chemical dependency, this is known as dual diagnosis. In many instances, individuals who are struggling with the day-to-day symptoms that result from the presence of a mental illness turn to the use of substances in an attempt to self-medicate their distress. Whether this is done knowingly or subconsciously, the result from the use of drugs or alcohol can ultimately cause individuals to experience more turmoil, as health complications can arise, symptoms can worsen, and new symptoms can develop. In some cases, individuals who have a genetic predisposition for mental illness may begin experimenting with substances, which ultimately results in the onset of mental illness symptoms. For example, an individual may have a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder but did not experience any symptoms of the illness until he or she begin chronically abusing alcohol and cocaine.

Regardless of whether the substance abuse problem or the mental illness symptoms manifested first, the results can be devastating. Individuals who suffer from dual diagnosis will experience disturbances in most, if not all, aspects of their lives. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can assist these individuals in learning how to successfully manage their symptoms, overcome their addictions, and move forwards towards living the bright, happy, and sober futures that they desire and deserve.

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Dual diagnosis is a concern that affects millions of individuals throughout the world today. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that out of the total number of people who are suffering from mental illness, about a third are simultaneously battling substance abuse concerns. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a more specific estimate, stating that approximately 8.9 million adults suffer from dual diagnosis. Sadly, despite the prevalence of dual diagnoses, a significant number of people do not receive appropriate treatment. According to SAMHSA, only 7.4% of people receive treatment that appropriately addresses both the substance abuse and the symptoms they are experiencing as a result of mental illness. Unfortunately, an estimated 55.8% do not receive any type of treatment at all.

Signs and Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

When individuals are suffering from dual diagnosis, they will exhibit symptoms of both mental illness and chemical dependency. Because of the wide array of substance use disorders and mental illnesses that can co-occur, the specific types of symptoms that are exhibited by individuals suffering from dual diagnosis will vary greatly as well. The signs and symptoms will be dependent on the specific mental health condition present, as well as the particular drug that is being abused. Examples of various possible symptoms that may be displayed by someone struggling with a dual diagnosis include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that one once enjoyed
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Engaging in behaviors that are out of character for the individual
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Lying about one’s whereabouts
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Engaging in sudden, unwarranted aggressive outbursts
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Sudden bursts of energy
  • Presence of marks or bruising at places on the body where drugs are being injected
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Changes in physical appearance

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Derealization
  • Depersonalization
  • Lacking the ability to use sound reasoning and judgment
  • Poor concentration capabilities
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sudden, drastic changes in mood
  • Excessive feelings of agitation and irritability
  • Increased feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Unwarranted feelings of anger, aggression, or hostility
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Feelings of invincibility
  • Feelings of shame or disgust with oneself
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Dual Diagnosis

When individuals are afflicted by dual diagnoses and do not receive treatment to appropriately address their needs, they are vulnerable to experiencing a number of adverse consequences throughout all areas of their lives. Depending on the specific substance being abused, adverse health complications can arise and cause a great deal of distress for sufferers. Examples of such heath complications can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Lung damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Contraction of viruses, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis

In addition to negative effects on one’s physical health, other aspects of an individual’s life can be adversely impacted by the presence of untreated dual diagnosis concerns. Such effects will inevitably vary in type, severity, and duration, but may include the following:

  • Decline in occupational performance, potentially resulting in job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Familial discord
  • Financial distress
  • Homelessness
  • Worsening symptoms of current mental health conditions or the onset of symptoms of additional mental health conditions
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Chronic suicidal ideation
  • Overdose, which has the potential to be fatal

Why Seek Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Receiving treatment for dual diagnosis concerns is imperative in order to help repair an individual’s sense of wellbeing. When individuals are addicted to drugs or alcohol and are simultaneously battling symptoms of mental illness, their ability to function on a daily basis is going to be significantly impaired. All aspects of their lives can be negatively impacted and they may feel hopeless about their futures as they feel helpless to change. Yet, the future does not have to seem so bleak.

By engaging in comprehensive care that is specifically designed to treat dual diagnosis, individuals who are battling chemical dependency and mental illness can learn how to successfully manage their symptoms while also putting an end to the deadly cycle of addiction. By engaging in daylong treatment that is tailored to address individualized needs, sufferers are able to step away from the stresses of their everyday lives, ultimately safeguarding them from exposure from various triggers that may cause them to use their substance of choice. In this secure environment, individuals are able to focus on themselves and their treatment, taking advantage of various therapeutic interventions and the compassion of caring and knowledgeable staff members. In this setting, individuals can also meet with psychiatrists who can help determine whether or not the use of certain medications may assist in alleviating the distress caused by their symptoms.

Through participation in this type of treatment, individuals can regain the confidence they need to realize that a future free of substances and no longer tainted by the symptoms of mental illness can be within their reach.

get confidential help now: (561) 349-4166 Email Us