Why Is Dual Diagnosis Confusing
Many people exhibit signs and symptoms of mental illnesses when they are abusing substances. At the same time mental illness often leads people to seek relief in substances and alcohol. It is not always clear what came first or what should be treated first. Further, not all rehabs are equipped or licensed to deal with dual diagnosis clients. So be aware of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
- Sudden changes in behavior.
- Using substances under dangerous conditions.
- Engaging in risky behaviors when drunk or high.
- Loss of control over use of substances.
- Doing things (like stealing, dealing, selling sex for drugs) you wouldn’t normally do to maintain your habit.
- Developing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.
- Feeling like you need the drug to be able to function.
Substance Use Impacts Mood, Brain Chemistry and Behavior
Abusing substances leads to mental health problems because of the effects alcohol and substances have on a people’s moods, thoughts, brain chemistry and behavior. In short, people can become mentally ill as the result of substance use.
Symptoms of Mental Illness
The symptoms of a mental health condition can also vary greatly. Knowing the warnings signs, such as extreme mood changes, confused thinking or problems concentrating, avoiding friends and social activities and thoughts of suicide, can help identify if there is a reason to seek help.
- Delusions—a person believes ideas that are clearly false (e.g. people are reading their thoughts)
- Hallucinations—images or voices that others cannot see or hear
- Emotional flatness
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Lack of content in speech
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Difficulty in organizing thoughts
- Difficulty in remembering
- Inability to recognize their illness
What Comes First Mental Illness Or Substance Use
Either substance abuse or mental illness can develop first. A person experiencing a mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication to improve the troubling mental health symptoms they experience. Research shows though that drugs and alcohol only make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse.
How Common is a Dual Diagnosis?
About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse. These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness.Men are more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder than women. Other people who have a particularly high risk of dual diagnosis include individuals of lower socioeconomic status, military veterans and people with more general medical illnesses. Some standard alcohol and drug screening tools are used in mental health clinics to identify people at risk for drug and alcohol abuse. From the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI
Self-help and Support
Dealing with a dual diagnosis can feel challenging and isolating. Support groups allow members to share frustrations, successes, referrals for specialists, where to find the best community resources and tips on what works best when trying to recover. They also form friendships and provide encouragement to stay clean. Here are some groups that can offer support:
- Double Trouble in Recovery is a 12-step fellowship for people managing both a mental illness and substance abuse.
- Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are 12-step groups for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.
- Smart Recovery is a sobriety support group program for people with a variety of addictions.
If you need help coping with mental health or addiction, check out the resources listed in Recovery Guidance.