What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
There’s often a strong correlation between drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, each year in the United States there are approximately 17.5 million people over the age of 18 with a mental health disorder. Of those 17.5 million, 4 million also have a substance abuse problem. Together these conditions are known as a dual diagnosis.
Understanding Dual Diagnosis
While it isn’t always clear which issue came first, studies suggest that substance abuse is secondary to a mental health disorder. This means that many problems with drugs or alcohol derive from a person’s struggle with an underlying mental health issue.
However, a mental health disorder can also be triggered by a person’s battle with substance abuse. No matter how it originates, it’s important for people with a dual diagnosis to seek appropriate treatment that addresses both the substance abuse problem and the mental health issue.
The Complex Side of Dual Diagnosis
Having a dual diagnosis is often much more complex than having a substance abuse problem or a mental health disorder alone because both issues greatly affect each another. According to experts, the relationships between the two are complex:
- Drugs or alcohol are used as a way of self-medicating or attempting to escape the pain, stress, discomfort or other symptoms of a mental health disorder. For example, a person with depression may feel temporary relief when high on drugs or alcohol.
- An underlying mental health disorder can worsen with the use of drugs or alcohol. This can happen during the use or withdrawal of any substance.
- Abusing drugs or alcohol can cause a person to develop symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Although people with a mental health disorder may attempt to find relief by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, their reprieve is often short-lived. Using any form of substance to cope with a mental health disorder is dangerous and can lead to serious physical and mental health problems as well as legal issues, incarceration, poverty, broken homes and unemployment.
But mental health issues, even when accompanied by substance abuse, are treatable. To achieve long-term recovery, it’s necessary for both aspects of a dual diagnosis to be addressed in treatment.
By Jenna Mitchell
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