Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis and Its Effect On Recovery

Initially, the term dual diagnosis was used in the 1980s to describe people experiencing mental health and substance abuse disorders simultaneously. There is no standard definition, which can lead to confusion, especially for anyone exploring therapy options online. Dual diagnosis can be interchangeable with “co-occurring disorder” and “comorbidity.” The meaning for all three is the same and they refer to a person experiencing substance abuse disorder (SUD) who has coexisting mental or physical conditions.

A few common conditions seen in people diagnosed with substance abuse disorder include the following:

  • Depression (e.g., major depression, atypical depression, seasonal affective disorder, etc.)
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Self-Medicating and Dual Diagnosis

It can be hard to deal with mental health problems on your own and some people self-medicate to cope with uncomfortable or painful symptoms instead of getting professional help. There are multiple reasons that people choose to self-medicate, including the following:

Feeling shame or stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis
Inability to cope or feeling overwhelmed by emotions or mood changes
Being unable to sleep because of insomnia or other sleep disturbances caused by a psychiatric disorder
Racing thoughts or an inability to calm down long enough to take care of personal responsibilities
For depressed individuals, it can provide enough stimulation to complete daily tasks
Substance abuse can dampen or numb emotional pain

While self-medicating might feel like a solution, it often leads to reliance and substance abuse disorder over time. Complicating matters is the fact that many of the prescribed medications used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD can become addictive when used over a long period of time.

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Alcohol Abuse and Dual Diagnosis

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania point to several known risk factors associated with comorbid conditions. Although they were not able to determine that alcoholism directly causes psychiatric disorders, there is still a strong association between alcoholism and dual diagnoses.

The researchers noted that in some cases, alcoholism was used as a way to self-medicate.

Other Risk Factors

There are a number of other factors to take into account. If you have recently been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, it might be confusing to try and sort out what may have caused them to develop and what changes you might have to make during recovery to lower the risk of further disorders. Here is a list of the most common risk factors for dual diagnosis:
  • A family or personal history of substance abuse and mental health disorders
  • Studies indicate that men are more likely to be diagnosed with comorbid conditions
  • Depression and low self-esteem
  • Exposure to certain substances or toxins while in the womb
  • Genetics
  • Being diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder

How Dual Diagnosis Can Affect Recovery

Recovery can be significantly affected by a dual diagnosis for a wide range of reasons. Medications for one condition may have adverse reactions on the other. Shared symptoms tend to be more severe, which can be more emotionally overwhelming and make it harder to commit to recovery. As such, it is important to find a treatment program that addresses both addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues.

What Treatment Options Are Available?

Treatment can be complicated when you are dealing with multiple disorders at the same time because the medication from one may affect symptoms for another. Both conditions must be treated both separately and simultaneously for the best chance of a successful recovery. This means that the timeline for recovery may be pushed back and that full recovery cannot be achieved until both disorders are fully treated. Ignoring a disorder is more likely to lead to a relapse. Integration therapy is a popular choice and research indicates that it might produce the best outcomes. However, it requires having a therapist experienced in dual diagnosis and may not be available in all areas.

It can also be more challenging for psychiatrists and therapists to determine underlying conditions when there are many overlapping symptoms. Without knowing which disorder they are dealing with, it can be harder to determine the right treatment options. This means that, depending on the circumstances surrounding your health, it can take some trial and error to discover what different symptoms mean and how they need to be treated. This delay means that it is not unusual for this to lead to longer recovery times.

Long-Term Effects of Dual Diagnosis

There are long-term effects that can come into play with a dual diagnosis. Both disorders require individual treatments, which can lead to complications. The medications used will also determine what kind of impact it will have on your recovery. Recovery may be further hampered if the substance being abused was a medication originally prescribed to treat mental health symptoms. Fortunately, the medical community has made great strides in creating integrated treatment plans for co-occurring disorders. Despite the challenges, there is a high rate of continued sobriety for individuals with a dual diagnosis.

When Should I Get Help?

If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder and struggles with other psychiatric conditions, it is vital to get help as soon as possible. Recovery is more likely to be successful in the long-term if professional medical assistance is sought early. At Create Recovery Center, we know that this is a big step to take and no matter where you are at on your road to recovery, our dedicated team is here to help you meet your goals.

We will guide you to the right treatment options for a dual diagnosis and offer a strong support system and resources to help you succeed in your recovery. For more information, reach out to Create Recovery today!