Americans are no strangers to mental illness; almost 18 million U.S. residents have had one in the past year. Additionally, 4 million of these people deal with a coexisting drug or alcohol addiction, also known as a dual diagnosis. The sad part is that more than half of this population never received any medical treatment for either illness.
When examining someone with a dual diagnosis, it isn’t always easy to tell whether the substance abuse or mental health disorder came first. However, with the right treatment and recovery plan, people with co-occurring disorders can live healthy, sober lives. They can also gain the confidence to face their mental illness head-on and use coping skills to manage it daily.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is a condition characterized by two coexisting illnesses: an addiction and a mental health disorder. People who suffer from the latter are likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and thus develop a drug or alcohol addiction. Vice versa, those who have an addiction can cause chemical changes in their brains and end up having behavioral health issues.
You’re at risk of developing a dual diagnosis if:
- There is a history of addiction and mental illness in your family
- You’re exposed to substances from an early age
- You’ve witnessed a traumatic event or have chronic stress/anxiety
Be aware of these risk factors before your addiction or mental health disorder gets worse. The sooner you get dual diagnosis treatment, the better.
Signs and Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders
Even though all mental illnesses have their own unique sets of signs and symptoms, you can’t always tell if a dual diagnosis exists as well. By knowing these signs in advance, you can help your loved one get the dual diagnosis treatment they need to be sober and mindful.
You have a dual diagnosis if you show the following signs:
- Developing a tolerance to certain substances like alcohol or drugs
- Having trouble quitting drugs or alcohol
- Stealing or lying about your drug addiction and other negative behaviors
- Stopping old hobbies in favor of new friends and activities
- Feeling guilty about compulsive behaviors
The following are physical symptoms of a dual diagnosis:
- A dramatic change in mood and energy levels
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling worthless and hopeless for more than two weeks in a row
- Difficulty maintaining friendships, keeping a residence, or holding a job due to mood swings
- Having delusions or hallucinations
- Following high standards and specific rituals to relieve anxiety
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
People with mental health disorders often find it challenging to deal with their painful symptoms. As a result, they’ll turn to things that give them temporary relief, most commonly drugs and alcohol. Although they’ll feel better for a little bit, those afflicted won’t find permanent solutions through substances. Below are some of the most common mental health disorders that coexist with addiction.
Anxiety is a general term for feelings of worry. People with anxiety disorder have overwhelming fears that make it difficult for them to maintain relationships and hold down jobs. They also tend to have panic attacks, which are episodes of severe worry
Signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
If you have anxiety, you might feel a desire to turn to drugs and alcohol to suppress your feelings. About 10 to 20 percent of people with anxiety also struggle with substance abuse. This makes anxiety worse, however, since drugs and alcohol can make panic attacks worse.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings and shifts in behavior. People who have bipolar disorder tend to have periods of intense hyperactivity followed by severe bouts of depression. They also usually like to engage in risky behavior, which many times include abusing harmful substances. These behavioral shifts make it hard for them to hold down jobs, have families, or interact effectively with others. About 56 percent of people with bipolar disorder have also suffered from a drug or alcohol addiction at some point.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
- Fatigue, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, suicidal thoughts, changes in appetite
- Talking rapidly, feelings of extreme self-importance, hallucinations, delusional behavior
- Higher-than-usual levels of energy and happiness
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., with about 10 percent of people in the country suffering from it. Although it’s normal to occasionally feel down or sad, people with depression feel this way more than usual. You might not always be able to tell at first glance if someone is depressed. Females, African Americans, and adults between ages 45 to 64 are the most at-risk for developing depression.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Poor appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Attempting suicide or having suicidal thoughts
Depression is commonly known as a gateway to drug and alcohol abuse. Those afflicted will turn to substances to numb their pain and mask their true feelings.
Eating disorders afflict 24 million people in the U.S. in each age group, and only about 10 percent of people with these disorders get any treatment for them. Some of the more common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, and pica.
Although each eating disorder has slightly different signs and symptoms, they are all pretty similar:
- Binge-eating (eating large amounts of food quickly)
- Purging (forcing themselves to vomit, use laxatives or exercise excessively)
- Having a distorted body image
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of guilt for eating too much
- Secretive about eating habits
- Mouth sores
- Dry skin
- Swollen salivary glands
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is categorized as an anxiety disorder. People with OCD have recurring fears and thoughts that cause extreme worry. By practicing rituals and frequently counting objects, they’ll find relief for a short while. However, their fears will soon come back.
More than 25 percent of people with OCD also struggle with substance use disorder.
Signs and symptoms of OCD include:
- Fear of germs or being exposed to bacteria
- Intrusive and disturbing thoughts and images
- Obsession with numbers, cleaning, and counting
- Fixation on religion
People with BPD have difficulty regulating their emotions and forming lasting relationships. BPD distorts a person’s self-perception, and they react dramatically to situations to cope with troubling feelings.
Symptoms of BPD include:
- Mood instability
- Difficulty controlling emotions
- Trying to avoid abandonment
- Suicidal behavior
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be extremely debilitating. PTSD can cause extreme anxiety and frightening flashbacks in people who have served in combat or been through a traumatic childhood event. If you experience trauma, you might feel out of control and powerless. This disorder greatly interferes with everyday responsibilities and can come in between your relationships.
A few causes of PTSD are:
- Sexual assault
- Violent assault
- Military combat
- Childhood abuse
- Natural disasters
The stress and panic attacks that stem from PTSD can drive someone to abuse alcohol or drugs and eventually develop an addiction.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness that revolves around hallucinations, disorganized speech, and delusions. It also consists of manic episodes that can include depression. People with schizophrenia tend to be alone and isolate themselves, which can take them down a dark path to addiction.
The Importance of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders Together
If you have co-occurring disorders, they must be treated simultaneously. An inpatient rehab program will be your best option since you’re suffering from two major health conditions. When you’re in an inpatient program, you’ll receive intense, round-the-clock care. When a dual diagnosis is treated as one, doctors will be better able to determine the causes of both your addiction and your mental illness.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center
At Harmony Ridge, we understand that patients undergoing dual diagnosis treatment require special care and attention. Having two disorders at the same time is not easy to handle, but you can put your faith in us. We offer a comprehensive approach to dual diagnosis treatment, and we know that there is no one right solution for everybody. Each program we design is tailored to our patients.
Medical detox is an important first step on the road to recovery. During a detox, you’ll stop using substances like drugs or alcohol while their harmful toxins leave your body. This can take as long as 30 days, and medical professionals will supervise you. You’ll likely have painful symptoms of withdrawal like nausea and dizziness, and our staff can mitigate these with medication.
After you’ve gone through detox, you’ll be immersed in therapy and addiction treatment. Residential treatment is our most restrictive program where you’ll receive 24/7 care and supervision in a serene, safe environment. Our licensed staff is trained to give you the best care and help you bond with other patients going through dual diagnosis treatment.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are a step down from residential treatment. Patients in our PHP will attend treatment three to five days a week for four to six hours per day. Like outpatient treatment, PHPs allow members to live at home while in recovery, but it does require more attendance than an outpatient program.
Our more relaxed treatment program, intensive outpatient is for people with mild addiction and mental health symptoms. If you reside in a safe and supportive environment and need to go to work or school, IOP is the best option for you. IOP patients attend three-hour sessions three days a week, and treatment usually lasts about three to four months.
Therapy is key to a successful recovery from dual diagnosis. While detox treats our bodies, therapy treats our minds and souls. You likely have unresolved issues stemming from your mental illness and your addiction. By talking to your therapist, you can learn new ways to tackle problems and understand what led you to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Individual therapy sessions will give you one-on-one time with your therapist. You’ll talk about how your mental illness came about, as well as what negative behaviors and thoughts led to your addiction. Using cognitive behavioral therapy, your counselor will turn these negative thoughts into positive ones that will help you reach your mental health goals. He or she will also help you identify triggers that can set off relapse or symptoms of mental illness.
Patients in group therapy will be surrounded by others who also have a dual diagnosis. Guided by a trained therapist, each person will get a chance to share their experiences living with co-occurring disorders. Your therapist will also teach you coping skills and initiate roleplaying so that you can apply what you’ve learned to everyday situations.
Family therapy aims to repair the bonds you’ve severed with your loved ones while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Both your addiction and mental illness can take a toll on your family members when you’re suffering. By understanding your co-occurring disorders, your family can support you and provide you with a safe environment.
Now that you no longer need drugs or alcohol to function, you might think you’re out of the woods. However, you’ll still encounter triggers and cravings which could lead to relapse. Aftercare is essential for preventing this from happening, and it will also help you conquer your mental illness for the long term.
Aftercare services like art therapy, outdoor therapy, meditation, yoga, and holistic services like acupuncture and tai chi can all bring you closer to peace. Learning how to live life sober can be an exciting experience, and this is an important time for you to find yourself. With proper aftercare, you can learn how to handle your dual diagnosis safely and responsibly.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment is Only A Phone Call Away
Are you suffering from drug addiction and a mental health disorder? It’s not too late for you to seek help. Harmony Ridge Recovery Center can bring light to the dark path you’ve been on for so long. Don’t give up hope now! Contact us today to learn about how we can treat your dual diagnosis and how you can take control of your mental health.