Used to describe the co-morbid (pertaining to a disease or other pathological process that occurs simultaneously with another) condition of a person suffering from both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem is known as dual diagnosis. In cases where a person is diagnosed with this illness, the person needs to treat both problems to fully recover.
More common than you might think, studies show 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers have at least one serious mental illness. Furthermore, of those diagnosed with a mental illness, 29% abuse either drugs or alcohol.
Psychiatric problems commonly associated with dual diagnosis are:
– Depressive disorders (depression, bipolar, etc.)
– Anxiety disorders (GAD, panic disorder, OCD, etc.)
– Psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, personality disorders, etc.)
The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study listing the seven major disorders associated with dual diagnosis and how much each one increases an individual’s risk for substance abuse.
Disorder Increased Risk for Substance Abuse
Antisocial personality disorder 15.5%
Panic disorder 4.3%
Major depressive episode 4.1%
Which problem develops first is unclear. More often than not, it is the psychiatric problem that appears first. For example, in a situation where someone is dealing with an antisocial personality disorder, they may attempt to feel calmer or more cheery by drinking or using drugs. This is known as self-medication. As a result, this may lead to physical or psychological dependence. In cases where alcohol or drug dependency is the primary condition, episodes of fits of rage, depression or suicide attempts may develop as a result.
Although treatment can be difficult, it does exist. Treatment should be integrated, not separated, and should be a collective decision between the treatment center and patient. Recovery is often viewed as a marathon, not a spring, and the methods and outcome goals need to be explicit.
Since 2003, the Delray Center for Healing has provided exceptional psychiatric and therapeutic care for mental health, eating, and substance use disorders. To learn more about our philosophy and treatment approach, download our free e-book, “Psychiatry Redefined,” written by our founder and medical director, Raul J. Rodriguez, MD.