What is Dual Diagnosis?

 In Diagnosis, General Information, Mental Health

Substance use disorders are very common in the US. About 1 in every 12 adults has a substance use disorder. The interesting thing about this fact is mental health disorders are just as common in the US. About 1 in every 5 adults has a mental health disorder. Treatment facilities and mental health professionals have been taking notice of this. This has created a push of acknowledgment of dual diagnosis when addressing substance use disorders and mental health disorders.

Dual diagnosis occurs when a person is working through both a drug/alcohol problem and a mental health disorder. It is complicated to deal with a dual diagnosis because the interaction of both the mental health disorder and substance use disorder can sometimes hide one disorder or worsen both. 

How Do Disorders Within a Dual Diagnosis Interact?

Research has not been able to specify that mental health disorders cause substance use disorders and vice versa. However, research has been able to point out how they worsen each other. Before delving deeper into how disorders within a dual diagnosis interact, understand that substance use disorders and mental health disorders both can be derived from genetics, environmental factors, trauma, and stress. This is part of what makes it hard to pinpoint which came first. 

Mental health disorders can worsen substance use disorders or even increase the need to use them due to the way mental health disorders affect the brain. These changes in the brain can cause a person to only be able to see the positives of drug use, cause greater cravings for substances, and may even seemingly soothe unpleasant symptoms of mental health disorders. For example, people with ADHD tend to be more prone to drug use due to neurobiological changes in the brain circuit caused by the disorder. The major problem with this is substance use can also have a lasting impression on the way mental health disorders affect the brain. For example, research shows that cocaine use can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder. Researchers have even been able to highlight a strong connection between nicotine dependence and schizophrenia. Studies show that smoking does help treat symptoms of schizophrenia such as low concentration, low mood, and even helps affected people cope with stress. Another complication that could be presented in the process of diagnosing a dual diagnosis is comorbid substance use disorders. The most common being heroin and nicotine. Comorbid substance use disorders can make the process of treating a dual diagnosis harder because the cravings could be interconnected and each substance affects the brain differently.

How to Diagnose a Dual Diagnosis

Due to the way mental health disorders and substance use disorders interact it can sometimes be very hard to differentiate the root cause of identical symptoms. To ensure a person with either a mental health disorder or a substance abuse disorder is receiving proper treatment, they must be given comprehensive assessments to find out if they have a dual diagnosis. Comprehensive assessments should be used by all mental health treatment personnel as well as all substance use treatment personnel. When a proper dual diagnosis does not occur there is a higher risk for patient relapse. 

How to Treat a Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is extremely complex to treat. Substance use treatment is already emotionally taxing, but the added emotional stress of a mental health disorder is one of the reasons why people with dual diagnoses have a higher rate of dropout from treatment. That is why it is imperative that a person with a dual diagnosis also has a dual treatment plan. 

Integrated treatment has been shown effective in treating a dual diagnosis, although researchers are still looking for better ways. Integrated treatment is standard practice when treating a dual diagnosis, and it requires the use of a combination of psychotherapy and medication. It can also sometimes include multiple forms of psychotherapy and multiple forms of medications, or no medications and a combination of psychotherapy. The important thing to remember is that everyone is different, so if you are experiencing a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder or both be kind to yourself as you heal. It may take time to figure out what treatment is best for you, but healing is possible especially with the right help. The best thing a person with a dual diagnosis can do is make sure they understand both disorders, and how their disorders interact. Comorbid treatments highlight understanding this relationship and how it will help a person cope with the desire to use, avoid situations/people that bring up feelings of wanting to use, and better manage the symptoms of their mental health disorder. 

Like any treatment, treating a dual diagnosis is a process. There are a wide variety of options to choose from when discussing options for treating a dual diagnosis. Sometimes it takes trial and error of different psychotherapy and medications before a person can find what works for them. This process is an amazing opportunity for a person to get to know themselves on a more intimate level and fully understand how to care for themselves. Substance use disorder can be extremely hard for individuals and families to combat alone. It is even harder when the person is dealing with an identifiable or unidentifiable mental health disorder, too. You don’t have to face it alone. Mountain Peak Recovery is here to help. Located in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Utah, Mountain Peak Recovery is the perfect place to retreat as you heal. If you or someone you love is dealing with a dual diagnosis or any other substance abuse issue call, (801) 824-8829.

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