Do you struggle with a mental illness as well as a substance abuse disorder? If you do, your case is not rare at all – and you can get help. In 2018 alone, about 9.2 million adults in the United States experienced the same thing. This is a condition called “dual diagnosis,” in which two distinct mental health disorders occur at the same time. These two kinds of disorders are also called co-occurring disorders since they are usually active at the same time.
Multiple studies have shown that around half of people struggling with addiction report that they also suffer from a psychiatric disorder. Bipolar disorders, depression, anxiety, and even PTSD are all examples of mental illnesses commonly experienced by those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. People who suffer from psychiatric disorders are more likely to develop some kind of addiction as well.
Dual diagnosis treatment centers may be required for certain clients struggling with mental health disorders and substance abuse. Both disorders must be treated in order for patients to have a better chance of proper rehabilitation.
Dual diagnosis can be triggered in different ways, in different orders, and for different reasons. Each case is different, even if the end result is the same. In order to discuss what causes it, it’s important to understand how it works.
Not everyone who suffers from dual diagnosis does so simultaneously their entire lives. This means that, at one point, people only experience one disorder. This logic, as well as other factors, prove that it is possible that one disorder triggers the other. The order in which this might happen can go either way.
For some, the psychiatric disorder might manifest itself first; for others, it is the addiction. A lot of people can experience symptoms of mental disorders at an early age. Research shows that the age of onset for mental disorders for about half of people is in their mid-teens, and for others, the late 20s. This is also around the same age when many start experiencing drinking and/or drug use. At this point, two things might happen:
Someone with a mental disorder can start “self-medicating” in order to deal with the symptoms. This can happen even if they do not know they suffer from a disorder or were not diagnosed with it. However, some people might do so aware of it. As this happens, the substances being used cause chemical and neural imbalances. Naturally, after abusing substances for too long, the person might start slowly developing an addiction, triggering the second disorder.
But this triggering can go the other way around as well. People with an underlying mental disorder, or with a tendency to develop it, might not be aware they are in a risk group. In this case, developing an addiction might start triggering mental disorder symptoms. That can happen precisely by the imbalances caused by the continuous use of substances.
The worst issue is that the disorders feed off of each other, like a toxic cycle. For instance: a person suffering from depression might drink to suppress the symptoms. While alcohol can be relaxing, it is a nervous system depressant. The constant use of a depressant, while suffering from depression, will make symptoms worse. But at the same time, the addiction makes the person crave it, even if it is harmful to them.
So no matter the order in which they happen, they will affect each other constantly. As addiction is a brain disease, mental disorders are a part of what addiction will damage. And while some effects of both disorders can be manageable, starting at an early age can cause irreparable harm.
The first possible factor, naturally, is if the person already struggles with either one of the disorders. As mentioned, people with psychiatric disorders are more likely to abuse substances in an attempt to self-medicate. Likewise, people suffering from addiction naturally suffer from imbalances, and pre-existing imbalances can be worsened.
The second issue is family history since it might point to a genetic tendency. It has been concluded that there are genes linked to substance abuse tendencies, and the same goes for mental disorders. While it is not a life sentence, it is a reason to watch out for any behavior and to avoid what might trigger addiction – since that can be more easily avoided.
The third factor, especially for mental illnesses, is stress and traumatic experiences. A few disorders, such as PTSD, can be developed by someone without a family history.
This is because trauma is its trigger, so people with a tendency to develop PTSD will only do so if they live through traumatic experiences. Also, while genes do play a role in the development of disorders, experiences are a much stronger factor than family history alone.
Another factor would be if the person has access to and takes prescription medication. The unfortunate reality of the opioid crisis is the biggest example of misuse triggering dual diagnosis.
People who use prescription medication, even for psychiatric conditions, have access to drugs that affect the nervous system. This can trigger both addiction and mental health disorders if misuse takes place.
One thing to be said of the last factor is that taking prescription drugs alone won’t make someone addicted. The same goes for casual drinking, which is different from being an actual alcoholic. It is the substance abuse that might bring on the addiction specifically. Medicating for mental health issues and other conditions can be perfectly safe if done so properly.
The good news is that it is possible to receive treatment for dual diagnosis. While there is treatment available for both addiction and mental disorders, many centers specialize in treating co-occurring disorders. That is because the technique and process for dual diagnosis treatment can be a little different.
The main challenge is that both disorders need to be addressed separately. Distinguishing the symptoms and how they affect the patient is crucial in order to contain and treat them.
The disorders can either be treated at the same time or one after the other. Professionals often advise that the acute symptoms need to be treated first in order to start the psychiatric treatment. However, that will be decided by the professionals responsible for a patient’s case.
The first step is detoxification for addiction. This stage of the process is important in order to cleanse the body from toxins causing chemical and neural imbalances. Once the withdrawal symptoms have been handled, the next stage can start.
As for any medication taken for mental illnesses, it is up to the team and the doctors to decide how they will be handled. You should consult with a licensed professional before taking any action regarding dosages.
Now, medical and psychiatric treatment can start. This stage is comprised of therapy, counseling, and the use of medication if needed. Individual therapy and counseling help patients set goals, understand their disorders and themselves, learn coping mechanisms, and heal from their trauma. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used in programs, as it tackles all of those areas and much more.
Group therapy and support groups are also pillars of dual diagnosis treatment. These sessions give patients a feeling of belonging like they are not alone. As they bond with their groups, they will get to learn from others’ insights and experiences.
Additionally, they will get to help others as well, while working on empathy and social skills. This purposefulness is also important to help with their battle against co-occurring disorders.
Other activities, like art therapy, activities in the wilderness, yoga, meditation, and exercising, might also be available. These extra options will depend on the center chosen, as they can all be tools for healing and treatment. Some centers also provide nutrition and fitness plans, all in an effort to help the general health improve along with the mind.
The service setting varies depending on the patient’s needs. But they fall under two categories: inpatient and outpatient. The former requires a 24-hour stay in the facilities and tends to be the most effective for dual-diagnosis patients. Outpatient can be more ideal for milder cases, or as post-inpatient treatment, helping the patient transition into their daily routines. Only a licensed professional can tell which will be the best for the patient.
Dual diagnosis can happen in many different pairs, but there is a solution to all of them. If you or a loved one might be suffering from a dual diagnosis, there are a lot of options in New Jersey. Multiple rehab centers are at your reach, with different goals, philosophies, techniques, and focuses. And we at NJRehabs.org can help you find the perfect fit for your needs.
We are specialized in rehab placement, with a proven 100% success rate reported. To get help finding the best dual diagnosis treatment programs in NJ, feel free to contact us online or call our hotline at 1-973-858-5125 today. All calls are 100% confidential, and free, and we are available 24 hours a day.
***If you do not have insurance to cover addiction treatment, please contact SAMHSA for governmental assistance.