Drug Addiction and Dual Diagnosis

It is normal to feel depressed from time to time, but sometimes the sadness and the lack of energy and motivation will continue indefinitely, with no end in sight. This is what clinical depression feels like, and those who experience it may need professional help to overcome its disabling effects.

The best forms of treatment for depression  (or for any other type of mental disorder)  are therapy and/or medication, but people with clinical depression often turn to illicit drugs to escape their troubles and to make the pain, emptiness and confusion go away for at least a little while.

When this happens there is a high risk of developing an addiction.

Since depression keeps returning, the self-medicating strategy ultimately fails, but tragically many victims of depression do not come to realize this until it is far too late — when full-blown addiction has taken hold.

Does this sound anything like your situation, or do you know someone whose path to destruction has followed this pattern? If so, please read on to learn more about what it means to have a dual diagnosis.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Men and women with a dual diagnosis suffer from a substance abuse problem and a mental health problem at the same time. Both are clinically significant and both require fast and targeted intervention.

Neither condition is assumed to be more important – or dangerous – than the other. However, if the drug or alcohol addiction is severe it may be necessary for the victim to go through detox before any other treatment takes place.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder associated with a dual diagnosis, but it is not the only one.  Bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and schizophrenia have also been implicated in cases where a dual diagnosis has been made.

In most instances the mental health disorder will develop first, and the drug addiction will follow as attempts to self-medicate run out of control. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; chronic drug abuse can cause physical and chemical changes in the brain that may lead to mental illness.

Drug and alcohol abuse can put a person at higher risk for violence or trauma. Stress-related mental illness (depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, etc.) is common among trauma victims so, even when substance abuse does not directly cause mental illness, it can still contribute to its development.

As you can see, dual diagnosis is a complex medical problem. Each individual with a dual diagnosis has a unique personal story to tell, and the only thing that unites every sufferer is their need for treatment services that acknowledge and address both the addiction and the mental health disorder.

Double the Risk, Double the Devastation

According to statistics released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about half of all people suffering from poor mental health also have serious substance abuse issues.

Unfortunately, only about 40 percent of those with a diagnosable mental health disorder will receive treatment for their condition in any given year. Among those with more severe mental health problems, only about 60 percent will have access to medication, therapy or other professional services at the time they need them.

This neglect obviously makes mental illness a fertile breeding ground for drug addiction. Approximately 20 percent of all Americans will experience a mental health issue during any 12-month period, and the lifetime risk for everyone is nearly 50 percent.

When services are not provided in a timely manner it can lead to greater services being required in the future. Unfortunately many people suffering from mental illness and not receiving services will try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. The ensuing substance abuse problem makes their situation even more difficult to overcome.

Act Now Before it is too Late – But it is Never Really too Late

In any branch of medicine prevention is always the best course of action.  This is especially true when there is a risk of dual diagnosis. Intervention and treatment when mental illness and/or substance abuse are in the earliest stages can make a decisive difference in the lives of those doubly vulnerable.

If you, or someone you care about, is struggling with mental health issues or drug abuse of any type, you should act immediately. By taking steps to get help now, you may be able to prevent major complications from developing in the future.

Even if a dual diagnosis has already been made, rehabilitation services are available that can help you or your loved one effectively confront the challenges associated with this complex, multi-dimensional condition.