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Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

By Brad Lamm, CIP

Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, dual diagnosis is a term used to describe people with a mental health disorder who have coexisting problems with drugs and/or alcohol.

Recent studies suggest that nearly one-third of people with all mental illnesses and approximately one-half of people with severe mental illness, such as bipolar and schizophrenia, also experience substance abuse.

The relationship between the two is complex, and the treatment of people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness is more complicated than the treatment of either condition alone. Mental health professionals categorize those complexities in the following ways:

  • Drugs and alcohol can be a form of self-medication, which occurs when people are diagnosed or incompletely treated and use substances to feel better.
  • Drugs and alcohol can worsen underlying mental illnesses– even those without mental illness can experience substance-induced psychosis or the onset of symptoms as a reaction to the drug.
  • Drugs and Alcohol almost always worsens the prognosis for a person with mental illness. Adherence to treatment plan, med regimen, and mental health appointments often go by the wayside for addicts which in turn can lead to psychiatric hospitalizations and suicide attempts.
  • Long-term sobriety is very difficult to achieve in those who suffer from both as they are more likely to end up in legal trouble and/or become physically dependent on their substance of choice.

Residential treatment and sober living can be most helpful to getting and staying sober in this population. Only then can the healing really begin. Although people with mental illness face an uphill battle when fighting addiction, it is possible to heal. If you or someone you love is living with dual diagnosis, don’t wait to get them the help they need.

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