Dual diagnosis is generally a term used when a patient is diagnosed with both an addiction and a mental health disorder. There is more to be learnt in order for the medical community to understand the relationship between addiction and other mental health issues, but there have been effective strategies developed for prevention, treatment, and recovery. Dual diagnosis is treatable if the right treatment is sought. If you or someone you love is suspected of suffering from mental health and addiction it is important to speak to trained professionals who can assess the situation and make the appropriate treatment recommendations. Recovery is possible for dual diagnosis patients.

What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean?

Dual diagnosis, also known as co-morbidity, co-occurring or dual disorders, refers to more than one condition. It is a term most commonly used to describe an addiction alongside a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Someone suffering from addiction is more likely to be diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder. Similarly, someone with mental health issues will have a higher chance of developing an addiction. Examples of dual diagnosis might include:

  • A mental health problem or disorder leading to or associated with problematic alcohol, drug use, or a behavioural addiction for example gambling
  • A substance use disorder or behavioural addiction leading to or associated with a specific psychological diagnosis
  • An escalation in an individual’s addiction which therefore alters and exacerbates the effects of your mental illness

Mental Illness

A mental illness is characterised as a disorder that affects the way you think, feel, and behave. There are many different types of mental illness, and each will affect people differently.

There are a few disorders that repeatedly present alongside addiction. Oftentimes, these disorders are the underlying cause of addiction, which is why it’s important to never ignore the symptoms of a mental health condition. Common mental health disorders linked to substance abuse include the following:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Stimulants are often prescribed in the treatment of ADHD, which can be habit-forming, which means people with ADHD may use substances as a way of coping with their symptoms. 

  • Bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder may be more inclined to self-medicate and use substances as a way of providing temporary relief from their emotions and episodes. . 

  • Depression

Many people often self-medicate in order to cope with the symptoms of depression. However, most substances only exacerbate these disorders and end up making the problem far worse. 

  • Eating disorders

Someone suffering from an eating disorder may use substances to suppress their appetite. Others will turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with the feelings of inferiority. 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes a number of unwanted obsessions and compulsions, such as an irrational fear of germs and the compulsive need to be clean. This illness comes in various forms, but overall, people suffering from OCD also experience anxiety and depression as a result of their behaviour, which can in turn lead to substance abuse.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

If someone is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their brain won’t produce enough endorphins compared to a healthy brain. As a result, a person may be more likely to resort to substances in order to feel happy. 

  • Schizophrenia

Diagnosing schizophrenia alongside an addiction can be difficult because the two conditions have overlapping effects. Using substances to cope with schizophrenia can put a person at even greater risk of experiencing further health problems. 

Primary Addiction and Dual Diagnosis

An addiction typically negatively impacts your life and the life of those around you. An addiction with a mental health diagnosis is common and might exacerbate the short and long term effects of: 

  • The use of illegal drugs
  • The abuse of a legal drug without or with a prescription 
  • The use of alcohol, drugs, or participating in certain behaviour such as gaming, in excessive amounts 
  • Using a drug despite any problems caused by the effects of that drug
  • The engagement of behaviour such as gambling that can cause significant financial issues
  • Risk-taking and/or anti-social behaviour
  • Illegal activity 
  • Emotional outbursts may lead to violence
  • Self-harm

Mental Illness or Addiction: Which Comes First?

Which came first, the chicken or egg? Hard to answer right? Links between mental health and addiction are likely to vary. Factors such as early childhood experiences, genetic predispositions, interpersonal relationships, intrapersonal relationships and other traumas, are all likely to increase a person’s risk of experiencing mental illness and addiction. 

Issues Related to Dual Diagnosis

Mental health problems and addiction both have a significant impact on people’s lives and the lives of those around them. When they exist together, other issues may develop such as:

  • A person with a mental illness may use alcohol, drugs or partake in certain behaviours such as gambling, to help cope with the symptoms of their illness
  • Diagnosis of whether the issues someone is experiencing are due to drug use, mental illness, or a combination of both pose a dilemma 
  • An individual may struggle to accept and complete treatment 
  • the relapse of one condition may increase the risk of relapse in the other condition
  • An individual may be on medication which can cause problems such as drug misuse, overdose, or mixing the medication with alcohol. 
  • Negative side-effects from medications 

There are various factors that can affect you once you’ve received a dual diagnosis. Some people find an accurate dual diagnosis to be incredibly helpful as they can begin to address both the addiction and mental health condition they suffer from, begin to understand it and seek appropriate treatment. It is important to get an accurate assessment and diagnosis through treatment for the appropriate treatment to be provided. 

People with dual diagnosis conditions that are not addressed simultaneously often experience higher rates of homelessness and social isolation, infections and physical health problems, suicidal behaviour, violence, antisocial behaviour and incarceration than those with just one disorder.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at CATCH Recovery

Treating a dual diagnosis can be a little more complex than treating addiction on its own. The first step is to confirm that there is a dual diagnosis present. For example, drugs like opioids and alcohol are known to cause symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, it’s important to correctly diagnose whether the mental illness is a by-product of substance abuse, or whether it is a separate issue that requires its own treatment. Failing to identify a dual diagnosis and continuing treatment for addiction could involve medications and therapies that might exacerbate the symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses. 

It’s unrealistic to expect to recover from addiction without addressing the psychological issues that might be contributing to it. Similarly, any mental health disorder cannot be treated appropriately without being completely abstinent from drinking and drugs. 

If you’re looking for addiction and mental health treatment in the South East, CATCH Recovery can help. Our team of addiction experts have many years of experience in treating dual diagnosis disorders. Our clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. 

However, if you need additional support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from some of the outpatient services we offer. If you require residential rehab and are unable to travel to London, we also provide referrals to rehabs in other areas in the UK and Ireland. 

You can call our admissions team for your free addiction assessment, and they will be able to advise you on the next steps.