Dual Diagnosis, Part 1


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Also known as having a co-occurring disorder, people who have a mental illness diagnosis as well as an addiction to alcohol or drugs are candidates for dual diagnosis treatment.

The population in the mental illness sector that receives the most attention these days is the group deemed "severely mentally ill," which can be a misleading term. While everyone with a diagnosed mental illness, combined with addiction, is dually diagnosed, not all mental illness diagnoses are considered to be severe. The mental illnesses that fit into the "severe" category are usually:

Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, refers to people who have a mental illness diagnosis as well as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. This article, written in two parts by veteran addiction counselor Kelly McClanahan, covers the challenges and issues that come with a dual diagnosis.
  • schizophrenia
  • severe anxiety disorders
  • severe depression
  • bipolar disorder

Cases of mental illness are complicated when combined with substance abuse and addiction. In most cases, the substance abuse itself may be the causal factor in mental illness. Whether the illness is a byproduct of substance abuse or if substance abuse stems from the user's desire to self-medicate aspects of their mental illness can be difficult to determine.

Other types of dual diagnoses may include less severe depression, anxiety disorders and personality disorders, along with substance abuse and addiction. Many individuals with less severe mental illness can be medicated appropriately and become functional. Others may continue their use and abuse of substances and never receive proper treatment. Many people suffer from mental illness brought about by trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms are often "managed" by use of drugs and/or alcohol and then that substance which "helped" them manage their disorder becomes an addiction. The addiction can advance their symptoms into a severely mentally ill status without proper treatment.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

The challenge in all of these dual diagnosis situations is to properly treat the individual, no matter the severity of their condition. Treatment will give patients incentive to remain drug and alcohol abstinent, but their underlying (or perhaps initial) mental illness remains.

Treatment for severe mental illness may involve drugs whose effects are difficult to predict. While some people will respond well to a drug that is intended to treat their condition, others with the same (or similar) symptoms will have terrible side effects and negative responses to the same medication. Therefore, it is important to seek a specialist in dual diagnosis who can closely monitor the treatment recommended. For more information on dual diagnosis, continue to Part II of this article.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to start the path to recovery today.

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