The term dual diagnosis can have several meanings depending upon the situation. When mentioned in the context of substance abuse, it refers to individuals who simultaneously have a substance use disorder and any other type of mental illness. Other phrases commonly used to refer to this situation are comorbidity and co-occurring disorder.
Substance abuse can include prescription drug misuse or the use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol. Some common mental illnesses often associated with addiction include depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia.
Addiction is considered a mental illness in itself due to the brain’s desire to repeat detrimental behaviors regardless of the negative consequences. It can be difficult to determine why many individuals with a substance use disorder also have another type of mental illness, but there are three common scenarios.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has included mental illness statistics in many of their drug use surveys. The 2015 data tables show that the percentage of persons aged 18 and older who used illicit drugs and/or misused prescription drugs was much higher in individuals with a diagnosed mental illness.
|Drug Used/Misused||Any Mental Illness||No Mental Illness|
*includes pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives
It may be difficult to separate the symptoms of a particular mental illness from those of drug addiction. However, if you notice any of the following, you should seek out a medical professional or licensed therapist to discuss the possibilities of a substance abuse issue, alone or with a co-occurring mental health disorder.
Escalation of mental illness:
Substance abuse indications:
For individuals with co-occurring disorders, the road ahead may seem a bit tough. However, there are many treatment options available to help overcome substance abuse and keep mental illnesses under control.
Many addiction centers have specific programs for individuals with a dual diagnosis. The Dual Diagnosis Capability in Addiction Treatment (DDCAT) and the Dual Diagnosis Capability in Mental Health Treatment (DDCMHT) assess treatment programs nationwide to determine their ability to serve people with dual diagnosis issues. These programs are assigned scores that place them in the following categories:
Support group meetings provide patients with co-occurring disorders a safe place to discuss problems and learn coping techniques from other members. In addition to the substance abuse programs offered by AA, NA, and Smart Recovery, Double Trouble in Recovery is aimed specifically at addicts with a co-occurring mental illness. The program follows the 12-Step recovery process, but members can enjoy a unique shared experience with other members dealing with the same struggle of simultaneous addiction and mental illness.
Many mental illnesses are treated with medication to lessen the severity and frequency of episodes. The medication is dependent upon your specific illness, other health issues, and lifestyle factors. Proper medication adherence can play a large role in managing mental illness.
Additionally, medications are often used during the withdrawal phase of addiction recovery. It is vital that your physician or therapist be aware of both of your disorders to properly prescribe medications. Do not stop taking any medication for your mental illness without the advice of a trained medical professional.
This guide is intended to give general information on dual diagnosis with regard to mental illness and substance abuse. It’s not offering any specific treatment or giving any medical advice. Always seek out a medical professional before starting any treatment regimen or discontinuing any addictive substance.