A dual diagnosis is when a patient is diagnosed as having both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder. Both pose their own risks and complications, and when the two interplay there can be some pretty big hurdles to navigate during treatment. There will be so many unique issues to work through to create a treatment plan that is effective in supporting recovery and wellness.

1. Dual Diagnosis Treatment Must Address Both Substance Use and Mental Illness

A dual diagnosis treatment plan will address mental illness and substance abuse in ways that view the individual as a whole person and support the patient in multiple ways. Addressing each disorder separately often hinders the recovery process because both disorders are feeding one another. An integrative approach is a must and it typically needs to involve incentives and rewards to keep patients engaged in their recovery.

2. Dual Diagnosis Treatment is Complicated

There are many challenges in dual diagnosis treatment. The presence of comorbid factors like diabetes and lupus can prescription drug intervention more difficult, as new dependencies can be created and there are potentially dangerous drug interactions. There are even additional environmental risk factors present.

3. Dual Diagnoses Are Very Common

When mental health disorders are already present, failing to treat the symptoms sometimes drives patients to self-medicating with alcohol and illicit substances. And at least 17.5 million Americans are believed to be living with mental illness. Out of the eight percent of the population, four million are also addicted to or regularly abusing drugs or alcohol.

4. Substance Abuse Can Lead to Mental Illness and Vice-Versa

It may not be clear which of the two disorders occurred first, but either of the two can spur the other. Substance abuse can lead to mental disorders due to the way that certain substances alter the biology of the brain. And mental disorders can trigger substance abuse as individuals attempt to self-medicate or engage in risky behaviors.

5. Dual Diagnosis Has Adverse Physical Effects

Both disorders have their own health concerns and consequences, which puts an individual at an increased risk of developing various diseases. Access to adequate healthcare further exacerbates negative health outcomes in these populations.

6. Dual Diagnosis Has Social Effects

The effects of social stigma are far-reaching. The stigma can cause people to distance themselves from their support system, which often leads to experiencing financial problems, employment problems, housing problems, and legal problems.

7. Dual Diagnoses Can Worsen Emotional Health

Suffering from substance abuse and a mental health disorder can bring on decreased emotional health, including increased stress, lower self-esteem, and guilt. They’re also at an increased risk for suicidal behavior, depression, and anxiety in addition to the emotional weight that comes with each of the two disorders.

8. Common Underlying Factors May Contribute to a Dual Diagnosis

Genetics, personality, and brain chemistry are a few of the characteristics that can contribute to the simultaneous development of both substance abuse and mental disorder. There are also environmental factors that play a big role in all of this.

9. Certain Mental Health Disorders Are More Common in Dual Diagnoses

Some of the more common mental health disorders diagnosed alongside a substance abuse issue include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Alcoholism often accompanies antisocial personality disorder, depression and anxiety. While stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines are more likely to be preferred by schizophrenics.

10. Sometimes Substance Abuse Looks Like a Mental Disorder

Substance abuse can trigger symptoms that are characteristic of organic mental disorders, and these symptoms can typically be treated by discontinuing the substance. Methamphetamine-induced psychosis or mania and severe anxiety as a result of discontinuing benzodiazepines are two instances where a substance can appear as a psychological disorder.

Careful attention, treatment, and purposeful and unique attention need to be given to the issues that surround dual diagnoses. As you can see, this is a very complicated issue, and tackling it requires patience, ingenuity, persistence, and dedication from the care team as well as the patient. Recovery is possible when it is supported and treated properly.