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Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis treatment is the treatment of both addiction and/or alcoholism on the one hand, as well as a separate mental health disorder on the other hand. Addicts and alcoholics can suffer from any one of these disorders, and treating them is just as vital as treating addiction itself.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Addicts & Alcoholics

Dual diagnosis, sometimes called “co-occurring disorders” or “comorbidity,” is a crucial part of any addiction treatment program. In 2011, it was estimated that 7.98 million people (17.5% of adults with a mental health problem) were also struggling with substance abuse. Likewise, about 1 in every 4 addicts or alcoholics is said to experience clinical depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue.

Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Co-occurring disorders can be any mental or behavioral disease, but they are most often the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia/Psychotic Disorders
  • Trauma/PTSD
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

Pre-Existing vs. Substance-Related

One of the difficulties in treating dual diagnosis addicts is recognizing whether their conditions were pre-existing (before drugs and alcohol) or whether addiction induced them. Using substances can certainly lead to symptoms that resemble mental illness. For example:

  • Using cocaine causes feelings of grandiosity, which may resemble a manic episode from bipolar disorder
  • Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety disorders, and withdrawal is known to induce panic attacks as well as feelings of anxiety
  • Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and long-term use leads to chronic depression

Depending on the substance, it may be difficult to discern the cause and effect relation between drugs and mental health. Many treatment centers will wait until after detox — or even weeks into residential treatment — until treating symptoms of other mental health conditions.

Why Dual Diagnosis Treatment is So Important

The occurrence of mental and behavioral disorders is demonstrated to make recovery much harder for those in addiction treatment. Many addicts use drugs and alcohol to “self-medicate” their conditions. If these conditions go untreated during the course of their sobriety, they often relapse to cope with them. For example, a depressed alcoholic is liable to go back to drinking unless their depression is dealt with.

Because mental health and addiction are so intertwined, is is crucial that they be treated equally and at the same time. Quality dual diagnosis treatment will balance traditional addiction treatment with medication, life coaching, and therapeutical services that are specifically tailored to the addict’s mental health issues.

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