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Why You Can’t Treat Just One Half of a Dual Diagnosis

Why You Can’t Treat Just One Half of a Dual Diagnosis

Statistics make it clear that addiction and mental health are related

Addiction and mental health disorders are inextricably linked. One issue typical contributes to, results from or complicates the other. The National Alliance on Mental Illness highlights this relationship by sharing, “nearly one-third of people with all mental illnesses and approximately one-half of people with severe mental illnesses…also experience substance abuse. Conversely, more than one-third of all alcohol abusers and more than one-half of all drug abusers are also battling mental illness” (“Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness,” January 2013). When addiction and mental illness occur at the same time, it is referred to as a Dual Diagnosis. Treatment for real, lasting recovery involves addressing all issues involved and providing the stability, support and skills needed for long-term management.

Why Do Dual Diagnoses Develop?

Statistics make it clear that addiction and mental health are related, but understanding why involves more than simply looking at some numbers. Individuals and professionals cannot always determine which concern developed first, but when they can, the progression is often clear. Those who begin with a mental health disorder may be overwhelmed by symptoms they do not understand or cannot manage. Stigmas, fears and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness keep many from recognizing the problem for what it is or from turning to professionals for help. Instead they choose to self-medicate. They may take a friend’s prescription, find that alcohol seems to provide relief or repeatedly use recreational drugs that create feelings of relief or escape. NAMI explains that individuals who self-medicate, “may have untreated—or incompletely treated—conditions (such as anxiety or depression) that may ‘feel less painful’ when the person is high on drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, while drugs and alcohol may feel good in the moment, abuse of these substances doesn’t treat the underlying condition and—almost without exception—makes it worse.” Not at all addictions begin with mental illness. Mental health concerns may be rooted in addiction instead. Intoxication and withdrawal can create or worsen issues such as depression or anxiety, and use can cause primary onsets of symptoms.

How to Treat Dual Diagnoses

Knowing the interrelation and development of a Dual Diagnosis is important to knowing how and why both should be treated. NAMI explains that active drug users with mental health concerns, “are less likely to adhere to their medication regimens and more likely to miss appointments…Active users are also less likely to receive adequate medical care for similar reasons.” If mental health is the only part of the Dual Diagnosis equation that is treated, it is unlikely that the patient will experience long-term improved health. If addiction is treated without addressing mental health, the feelings, thoughts and symptoms that first directed an individual towards self-medication or escape will remain, and he or she will ultimately return to the behaviors that have provided some form of temporary solace in the past, even if they ultimately further complicated health and life.

Dual Diagnoses are addressed through treatment programs and by treatment professionals that are aware of and experienced with co-occurring disorders. Addiction recovery and mental health professionals will work together as a team to provide complete and comprehensive treatment. They will help patients address addiction and the reasons behind it, and they will help them manage mental health symptoms and learn positive, healthy coping skills. Professional treatment programs can be found by calling our toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators will get to know you and your situation, and they will match you to the best and most effective treatment resources for your specific recovery needs. Help is available 24 hours a day, so please pick up the phone and begin your real, complete and lasting recovery today.

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