Out of the estimated 16 million people suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), 7.9 million have an additional mental health disorder. This co-occurrence of disorders is often known in the medical community as dual diagnosis.
Though a dual diagnosis can be more complicated to treat than a singular occurring addiction disorder, it’s certainly possible. Read on to learn more about dual diagnosis, what it looks like, and how it can be treated.
Understanding Dual Diagnosis
Also known as co-occurring disorders, dual diagnosis is the term for a situation where a mental health illness and substance abuse addiction simultaneously occur.
This is common among individuals with alcohol use disorders, who may drink to numb the unpleasant symptoms and feelings that often come with mental health disorders. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder may turn to alcohol to lessen feelings of panic and dread. Research has shown that alcohol use may worsen symptoms of mental health conditions, though it does not cause them.
Individuals with a dual diagnosis are statistically significantly more likely to develop alcohol use disorder than those without. About a third of those dealing with an alcohol addiction have at least one co-occurring disorder.
A dual diagnosis is especially dangerous because the symptoms of each can exacerbate one other. That makes it easy for the abuse and the mental health disorder to both spiral out of control if left untreated.
It’s important for those dealing with a dual diagnosis involving substance abuse disorder to seek treatment from professionals with training and experience. Treating clients with a dial diagnosis typically requires clinical skills and licensing beyond basic substance abuse counseling.
Spending time in a rehab facility is often a good way for many individuals with co-occurring disorders to begin a new sober lifestyle while treating their mental health condition appropriately. This allows counselors and therapists to delve deeper into the individual’s circumstances and treat the person as a whole instead of focusing on just the AUD or mental health disorder.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders With AUD
There are several primary mental health disorders that often appear in conjunction with alcohol use disorder. Most individuals with dual diagnosis use drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms they experience from their mental illness, which may often include any of following disorders.
Depression is a state of mood characterized by general feelings of emptiness and a lack of interest in life. Those suffering with depression may find their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors strongly affected by their disorder.
Some of the main symptoms of depression include:
Depression can greatly affect self-esteem, daily behavior, and may even lead to suicidal thoughts.
Anxiety is characterized by an overwhelming worry or dread that can greatly negatively affect everyday life. It often involves lasting feelings of crippling panic and can quickly spiral out of control for its sufferers.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:
People who suffer from anxiety disorders may find themselves frequently going to their doctor or the emergency room, as anxiety and panics can share symptoms with more serious ailments and heightened worry can exacerbate the feeling that something is wrong.
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood swings in the individual it affects. It’s typically characterized by periods of intense energy (or mania) alternating with periods of debilitating depression.
Bipolar disorder may cause the following symptoms:
Treatment of bipolar disorder requires diagnosis and management by a healthcare professional. Medication is often prescribed, and counseling is highly recommended even in cases without a dual diagnosis.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition in which an individual struggles to recover following a traumatic event.
Symptoms of PTSD can include:
For those suffering from PTSD, alcohol can provide a much-desired respite from triggering thoughts and feelings.
PTSD inhibits the production of endorphins in the brain, making those who have it more likely to turn to alcohol or other substances in search of happiness. Veterans are especially likely to develop alcohol due to PTSD; according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, almost 75 percent of troops who experienced violence or trauma during combat later develop alcohol use disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder can manifest in a number of different ways but is typically rooted in overwhelming thoughts and fears leading to unhealthy compulsive behaviors. These can involve phobias about things like germs or public areas, or they can result in obsessive repetitive behaviors.
Symptoms of OCD may include:
Alcohol is often used to alleviate the feelings and symptoms of OCD; an estimated 24 percent of those affected by OCD also suffer from alcohol use disorder.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs that you or a loved one may be suffering from co-occurring disorders. Asking the right questions can help you to identify whether further steps may need to be taken before it’s too late.
The symptoms of a dual diagnosis may greatly vary depending on the co-occurring mental health disorder of the individual, as well as the severity of the AUD. However, there are some basic warning signs to watch out for; if you or a loved one are experiencing any combination of the following symptoms, it may be time to speak to a professional about treatment options.
Symptoms of dual diagnosis can include:
Since the symptoms of both disorders tend to exacerbate one another, it’s often difficult to discern whether symptoms are caused by one disorder or the other. Because of this, co-occurring disorders (and the individual suffering from them) are treated as a whole. Professional treatment addressing both disorders at the same time is advised for patients with dual diagnosis. This allows the individual to fully be able to deal with treating their disorder instead of turning to alcohol or drugs to mask the symptoms. This treatment of both disorders simultaneously is known as integrated intervention.
People suffering from co-occurring disorders have several options to choose from when it comes to their treatment. You and your counselor should work together to create the best recovery plan to aid both your sobriety and your mental health condition. This plan may include any of the following options:
If a rehab facility is going to be helpful in treating co-occurring disorders, it needs to be a good fit for the individual.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make calls to several facilities if necessary. Not sure what to ask? Try starting with these questions:
A dual diagnosis can feel overwhelming to deal with, but it doesn’t have to be. Help is available. Take the next step and seek treatment. Your life is worth it.