Reality check: dual diagnosis is extremely common. Unfortunately, many people are afraid to address their addiction or the fact that they may have a mental illness. Society has notoriously written off mental illness specifically as a taboo topic. There has long been a stigma surrounding mental illness. It causes those suffering from a disorder to suffer in silence because of embarrassment and fear of judgment.
The stigma and subsequent silent suffering only worsen the severity of the illness. It causes victims to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. People suffering from a mental health disorder who are also struggling with addiction are even less likely to reach out for help. The established dependence on substances – as a cure as well as the shame, guilt, or denial regarding the addiction – essentially stifles their desire to get help.
Because addiction and mental illness are both extremely harmful to a person’s overall health and wellbeing, it’s important that we understand and accept the prevalence of dual diagnosis.
What is dual diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis is the presence of a mental illness AND a substance abuse problem. Dual diagnosis can range from someone abusing alcohol to cope with their depression to someone’s schizophrenic symptoms becoming worse when they’re high. While both illnesses can be intertwined and trigger each other, they are two distinguishable illnesses that need to be treated. Unlike substance abuse, a mental illness needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
1/3 of all people with a mental illness also experience substance abuse
1/2 of people experiencing severe mental illness also experience substance abuse
1/3 of all people with alcohol dependency have a mental illness
1/2 of all drug abusers have a mental illness
Symptoms of Mental Illness:
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Low energy levels
- Sleeping problems (too much or too little)
- Social withdrawal
- Mood changes
Symptoms of Addiction:
- Loss of control when using substances
- Neglecting responsibilities and hobbies
- Extreme increase in tolerance to drugs or alcohol
- Relationship issues
- Deterioration of appearance
Both the mental illness and the substance abuse problem, whether they are closely intertwined or not, need to be treated. Treating someone for their mental health disorder will not make their substance abuse problem go away, just as treating someone for substance abuse will not cure them of their mental illness.
The best way to treat a dual diagnosis is to treat both illnesses simultaneously. However, the level of care a person receives is completely dependent on the individual. The treatment plan should be personalized after considering the specific mental health disorder and the severity of the addiction.
Both substance abuse and mental illness are serious issues and should be treated as such. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us at 855-737-7363 for a free and confidential assessment.