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Dual Diagnosis

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe a co-occurring condition. This is when a patient suffers from both a mental health disorder and a substance addiction simultaneously. The two often feed into each other, intensifying each condition. Patients may begin using drugs in an attempt to self-medicate a mental health condition that isn’t being treated properly. On the other hand, a mental health disorder may develop after prolonged substance abuse.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has conducted studies showing that about 50% of drug abusers also have some sort of mental illness. Additionally, about 29% of all people diagnosed with a mental illness will abuse drugs or alcohol at some point. The numbers in Massachusetts collected by the Bureau of Substance Abuse reflect these national statistics.

Common Types of Dual Diagnosis

Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and panic disorders are commonly seen in tandem with drug abuse. The progression of these two diseases can go both ways.

Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine are known to produce feelings of anxiety and paranoia in users, and the stronger stimulants that cause brain damage over time can induce a permanent state resembling paranoid schizophrenia in long-term users.

On the other side of the coin, patients suffering from a panic disorder or constant anxiety frequently attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or “downer” drugs such as sedatives and opiates. While these drugs may work for a time, the body develops a tolerance to them, leading to the patient taking greater and greater doses and eventually developing an addiction. Sometimes, drugs and alcohol can actually trigger a panic or anxiety attack, moving the process of addiction along even faster.

OCD and Addiction

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is somewhat similar to an anxiety disorder, but in manifests itself in the need to perform “rituals”, or unnecessary tasks like washing hands over and over again or touching every upright object that they pass. If the OCD sufferer does not complete these tasks, they feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear.

Those who have OCD are aware that their behavior is irrational, but they cannot help it. In desperation, they often turn to alcohol or drugs to dull their symptoms. The Journal of Anxiety Disorders published a recent study that estimated about 25% of those who suffer from OCD will abuse drugs or alcohol in an attempt to find relief. Embarrassment over OCD also causes many patients to hide their symptoms, and they in turn hide their substance use.

PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event in their lives. It is especially common among those who have experienced violence, such as rape victims and members of the military who have been deployed in a war zone. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares and outbursts of anger and even violence.

Needless to say, PTSD can seriously interfere with normal life. Those who suffer from it sometimes use drugs and alcohol to try to control their symptoms, which in time can lead to development of an addiction. A study published in the journal Alcohol Research and Health found that over 50% of those with PTSD will abuse alcohol at some point, and over 30% will abuse an illicit drug.

Eating Disorders and Addiction

Eating disorders are very serious on their own, causing more deaths than any other mental health disorder, but what is not well-known about them is that they are frequently accompanied by a substance abuse issue.

As with other disorders rooted in anxiety, people with eating disorders may use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to control their system. Those that “binge and purge” frequently have an alcohol disorder, as they use large amounts of alcohol to vomit after binging. Even though they are vomiting, exposure to the alcohol can still be enough to cause an addiction.

Though they are often thought of as distinct things, eating and substance abuse disorders share many of the same neural characteristics and also tend to arise out of the same circumstances of unusual stress.

Depression and Addiction

Clinical depression can lead those who suffer from it to use either stimulants or depressants in an attempt to self-medicate. Substance abuse disorders of all types also very often trigger depression as a secondary condition. Alcohol disorders combined with depression are commonly seen in Massachusetts.

Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

If there is an underlying mental health disorder complicating an addiction, it should be addressed with professional assistance. A Massachusetts certified drug treatment facility will be sure to address both the mental health component and the drug abuse component of a person’s recovery.