Dual Diagnosis: The Root of Addiction?

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Dual-diagnosis often comes with a long line of misconceptions. More often than not, drug addicts tend to have an underlying mental illness along with their addiction that, if not diagnosed and treated, further drug abuse, relapse, and/or mental torment may result no matter how much therapy and 12-step work one does in recovery.

The confusion can also lead one to feel alone, even in a room filled with recovering addicts, which is meant to ensure the opposite effect.

So, what’s the solution? Both drug abuse and the co-occurring mental illness(es) must be treated at the same time, and the relationship between mental illness and addiction must be understood as well by family and physician alike.

That being said, can a mental diagnosis aside from addiction be the underlying issue of one’s substance abuse to begin with?

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe individuals with both severe mental illness and addiction. What each dual diagnosis has in common is that self-medication via substance abuse tends to be used to cope with the symptoms of said mental illness.

Some examples of mental illnesses that commonly occur with drug and alcohol addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopathy)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Eating Disorders (i.e. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge-Eating, etc.)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Psychosis may sometimes be drug-induced as well and may not be identified until after one is clean from using. Unfortunately, some people continue to endure a drug-induced psychosis after becoming drug-free.

Individuals with a co-occurring mental illness and addiction tend to also have abnormal levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which change drastically during drug use and abuse. Such hormones affect one’s metabolism, sleep, appetite, and stress response, causing unstable emotions, erratic energy levels, and depression.

All this can lead to irrational decisions that can cause an incredibly unmanageable life, making treatment and abstinence from drugs difficult to obtain and keep if left untreated. Suicidal thoughts tend to be a part of the equation for many mental disorders as well.

It is important to also check if one has a mental health issue when getting treated for addiction because undiagnosed individuals commonly abuse alcohol and drugs.

Is Mental Illness Still a Stigma?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 42.5 million American adults suffered from a mental illness in 2014. Despite the high number of Americans with a mental health disorder, there is still a stigma where people without a mental illness are not empathetic toward those who do.

In fact, 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people were caring or sympathetic toward their daily struggles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that’s a very small number compared to the majority.

Even in the safe haven that is a 12-step program for an addict in recovery, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about the link between mental illness and addiction and those with a dual-diagnosis. Yes, these programs do have certain aspects of their literature that addresses dual-diagnoses; however, judgment against those who struggle with symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and many other mental illnesses does still occur.

It is extremely important for these individuals to not only be treated but to also do what they need to do to make their livelihood manageable despite the ill comments and treatment possibly sent their way. Whether that be medication, hypnotherapy, and/or counseling, healthy coping and management tools are vital when it comes to treating a mental illness, for if a mental illness is left untreated, the chances of relapse are incredibly high. One may also be dangerous to one’s self and possibly to others as well.

If a person’s mental health disorder is being treated during the use of drugs, treatment will not work and neither will medication.

Can This Be the Root of Addiction?

For many, individuals start abusing drugs to cope with mental conditions, whether they are aware of it or not. However, drug addiction has come to flourish for those who already had the addictive behaviors of obsession, compulsion, and self-focused fear to begin with. So which came first: the chicken or the egg?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who are marijuana-dependent tend to obtain anxiety, mood, depressive, or manic disorders. Drugs have also awakened mental illness with those who have schizophrenia in their family history.

It is perfectly possible that drugs can cause the kind of chemical changes that may lead to mental health issues after engaging in substance abuse behaviors. It can actually take months or even years of sobriety in order for one’s brain chemistry to get back to normal, if it ever goes back to that at all.

While 8.4 million people suffered from drug abuse and mental illness in 2012, the case is different for everyone when it comes to the question of what came first: the mental illness or addiction.

All in all, whether addiction or a mental illness came first, what’s the most important thing to do is to treat both conditions at the same time. Drug abstinence is key, and so is mental health treatment. By treating both illnesses, and through the assistance of a support group that understands, success is perfectly possible and can lead to a happy, manageable life.

Are You Struggling with a Dual Diagnosis?

It’s one thing to be struggling with an addiction problem, but it is an entirely different thing to be suffering from mental illness as well as drug abuse. As scary, intense, and painful as it all may be, a dual diagnosis is not impossible to treat!

Here at Pathway to Hope, we treat dual diagnosis with the correct care, empathy, and love necessary to create progress, happiness, and a more stable way of life. For help today, please call our 24-7 specialists at 844-557-8575.



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