Dual Diagnosis: Getting to the Root of Addiction

Addiction can be caused by any number of things. Often, one of the factors at play is an individual’s mental health. Despite that common fact, far too many patients aren’t getting help for mental health issues. That’s where dual diagnosis comes in and gets to the root cause of addiction once and for all.

Defining Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is exactly what it sounds like. It is when a patient is diagnosed with two separate disorders. Typically, these are a substance abuse disorder, also known as addiction, and some kind of mental health disorder.

Dual diagnosis is more common than many people expect. More than half of those with a mental illness also struggle with substance abuse at some point in their lives. Conversely, nearly half of those addicted to drugs and alcohol suffer from a mental health disorder.

Unfortunately, millions of people who suffer from both addiction and mental illness don’t get the right diagnosis or the right addiction treatment. Often, patients only receive a diagnosis once they are ready to begin addiction treatment at a quality facility. During an intake evaluation or assessment, mental health problems may be obvious to professionals trained in addiction treatment.

The Link Between Mental Illness and Addiction

Clearly, the statistics show that there is an undeniable link between mental health disorders and addiction. However, it is not always clear why that is. There are several theories, and each may be correct for some patients.

One very likely possibility is that those who struggle with mental illness turn to substance abuse as a means of self-medication. This is more pronounced among those who do not have a proper medical diagnosis and who are not using prescribed medication to manage mental illness.

When mental illness is present, it can be incredibly challenging. Without the tools to manage conditions such as bipolar disorder or anxiety, alcohol and drugs can appear to be the easiest and most accessible solution. Unfortunately, adding substance abuse or addiction will only serve to make life harder for many of these individuals.

Another potential cause for the link is that those who abuse substances and struggle with addiction may exhibit mental health conditions as a result of that addiction. This is certainly plausible, because many substances can lead to severe mental illness over time.

For example, alcohol is a depressant and can absolutely lead to depression. Stimulants can cause severe anxiety once the drugs begin to wear off. Many drug users also report paranoia, often as a result of criminal activity or because of their illicit drug use.

Sometimes, both mental illness and addiction are caused by a separate, third factor. This may be the case for patients who have suffered some sort of trauma in their past. Military personnel, for example, may struggle with aspects of their time overseas. This could lead to both PTSD and alcohol abuse.

Treating the Cause, Not Just the Symptoms

One of the biggest mistakes in addiction treatment is focusing on the physical symptoms rather than their cause. It is common for patients to complete a detox and then head straight back to everyday life. Unfortunately, a detox addresses only the immediate chemical dependence. It can’t prevent addiction from taking hold again.

Getting to the root cause of addiction is easier said than done. However, those who struggle with mental illness have a good place to start. Through dual diagnosis treatment, mental health will get the attention that it deserves.

It is not enough to treat addiction for a month or two and then have patients get help for mental health conditions. The two need to be addressed side-by-side in a simultaneous fashion. This way, patients can start to link the two and understand how mental health and substance abuse are connected. Understanding this connection is just one of the ways that the root of addiction can be targeted.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Reduces the Risk of Relapse

Relapse is a concern for most patients who have struggled with addiction in the past. Statistically, a staggering number of people who receive treatment will eventually use drugs or alcohol again. Some of the more effective ways to prevent relapse include creating a support system and completing a high-quality addiction treatment program. For those with mental health conditions, however, the best tactic will be completing dual diagnosis treatment.

During dual diagnosis treatment, patients will learn how to manage their mental health conditions. In many cases, that means pharmacological treatment. Taking medicine for certain conditions means that patients can completely eliminate some of the most traumatic symptoms.

Mental illness, simply put, is stressful. Since stress is one of the major reasons for relapse, there is clearly a problem. Patients who only get addiction treatment, and have unresolved mental illnesses, won’t be equipped to deal with upcoming stress.

There are many different coping mechanisms that can be created and learned to help handle mental health problems. For example, a person who struggles with depression, and turns to alcohol for help, can instead join a support group or even participate in daily fitness classes. The specifics depend on each individual patient, but they can truly make a world of difference.

What Dual Diagnosis Treatment Looks Like

Dual diagnosis is not a set protocol. However, it often includes a significant amount of individual talk therapy. This is the bedrock of addiction treatment and a key part of addressing mental illness. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to find talk therapy making up the bulk of dual diagnosis treatment.

Dual diagnosis might also include medical treatment, particularly for those with a severe mental illness. This could mean pharmacological treatment. Group therapy can also be helpful, and a range of alternative or holistic approaches have the potential to be beneficial.

Many of the people who struggle with addiction also have an undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorder. Treating both simultaneously through dual diagnosis treatment is the only truly effective way to combat relapse and end addiction for good.