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Dual Diagnosis: Signs and Treatment

Written on April 19, 2024
Dual Diagnosis: Signs and Treatment

Dual diagnosis is something that many people struggling with substance abuse face. Understanding this and how to effectively treat the condition is a crucial part of beginning a recovery journey.

The effects that mental health and substance abuse can have on an individual’s life can be extreme. Effective treatment of these conditions can help create a space for a happier, healthier future. 

Defining a Dual Diagnosis

It is a common occurrence for individuals struggling with substance abuse to struggle with their mental health. When substance abuse coexists with mental health challenges, this is known as dual diagnosis. The term is used interchangeably with co-occurring disorders, but regardless of the term used, these conditions should be properly treated and addressed to successfully recover.

The impacts that both mental health and substance abuse can have on a person can be extreme, and treating both conditions, simultaneously, is necessary to heal. Without proper care and treatment, these conditions can be complicated by one another. 

How Do They Begin?

Several different factors can play a role in the development of co-occurring disorders. These factors can include genetic predisposition, stress, trauma, environmental influences, and early substance use. Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can contribute to individuals turning to substances like drugs and alcohol to cope.

With continued use of these substances, the body can then begin to develop tolerance and dependence on them. On the other side of it, drugs and alcohol can contribute to the prevalence of mental health challenges. These substances can trigger new psychiatric symptoms or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. 

Connection Between Addiction and Mental Health

The connection between addiction and mental health is complex. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions often co-occur with substance use disorders. It is vital to address dual diagnosis to prevent complications. Understanding how one condition can complicate the other is important for these individuals and their path to getting better.

Alcohol and Depression

Depression is a common mental health challenge that many people across the country face daily. When these people turn to alcohol as a means of coping with their depression, it makes it more difficult to manage. Alcohol is a depressant.

It works on the CNS in ways that exacerbate the mental health condition. When someone who is struggling with depression turns to alcohol, it can make the feelings of sadness and worthlessness worse.

Anxiety and Marijuana

Many people use marijuana to help manage anxiety. However, with continued use, brain chemistry can be altered and it can affect the way a person perceives stressors and triggers. It can exacerbate feelings of anxiousness and affect mood regulation. Long-term use can contribute to increased anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.

Prescription Drug Abuse and Dual Diagnosis

Some of the most commonly abused substances are prescription drugs. This can include medications intended to help with the treatment of mental health conditions. Alleviating mental health conditions by abusing prescription medications can contribute to the exacerbation of these conditions. 

ADHD and Stimulants

Often, those struggling with ADHD are prescribed stimulant medications such as Adderall to manage their symptoms. They work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine as well as other neurotransmitters within the brain, however, these medications come with a risk. The risk of abusing these medications is high. The effects of stimulant medications can include appetite suppression, insomnia, and irritability.  

Benzodiazepines and Anxiety

Commonly, individuals who are struggling with anxiety are prescribed benzodiazepines to help manage the symptoms. Benzos are extremely dangerous and potent drugs that carry a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Using these medications long-term can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms when they are abruptly stopped. Abusing these medications can result in developing a dual diagnosis, requiring professional help to manage both conditions. 

Signs of a Dual Diagnosis Disorder

Different signs could be indicative of someone struggling with a dual diagnosis. For example, turning to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping or self-medicating mental health conditions. The individual may also experience severe mood swings, anxiety, and/or depression while simultaneously abusing substances.

Other signs can include difficulty in managing responsibilities such as work or school, engaging in risky behaviors, legal problems, doctor shopping, and withdrawal symptoms when the substances are unattainable. 

Therapy for Treating Mental Health

Therapy can be extremely beneficial for individuals who struggle with mental health challenges. It provides a safe space where those who are struggling with dual diagnosis can safely express their inner turmoil as well as gain positive tools and coping skills that can be implemented to prevent further complications. However, the first step is to remove the substances.

Detox for Substances

Detox is the first step to beginning a healthier lifestyle. Removing the substances from the body can allow the person to fully grasp all that the therapy is intended to teach. It provides a safe environment in which medical professionals can monitor the individual as they undergo the withdrawal process. This can be an extremely uncomfortable experience, and having the ability to alleviate symptoms, and monitor for complications can make the process easier.

Overcoming Dual Diagnosis

Struggling with addiction is a challenge that is extremely difficult when it is faced on its own. When mental health conditions are present, simultaneously, it complicates each condition, making it extremely difficult to live life daily.

Many of those who struggle with these conditions are unaware of the available help. At Flatirons Recovery, we aim to provide the best care possible for individuals to begin their healing journey. If you or a loved one are struggling, we can help.

Call us today and ask how we can help you.