Dual-Diagnosis is a term used to describe a condition in which an individual suffers from chemical dependency along with one or more psychiatric illnesses simultaneously. These conditions are also commonly referred to as co-occurring disorder, co-morbidity, concurrent disorders, and dual disorders. However, dual diagnosis is the most widely accepted term relating to these maladies.
The most common psychiatric conditions that may accompany a drug or alcohol addiction include Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Eating Disorders and Schizophrenia.
The extent to which these conditions occur in individuals with substance abuse issues is astounding. Studies show that over 50% of individuals who abuse drugs will suffer from a mental illness, while almost one-third of individuals with a mental illness will suffer from a substance abuse problem.
Alcohol & Mental Illness
The National Co-morbidity Study found that alcoholic men suffered from depression at a rate three times higher than the general population, and alcoholic women suffer a rate of depression four times higher. In addition, 60% of those diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, 30-50% of those diagnosed with ADHD, and 25% of those diagnosed with anxiety or depression also suffer from an addiction.
It is often difficult to determine the exact cause of a substance abuse problem or a mental illness in a person who is dually diagnosed. In some instances, substance abuse is brought on by an existing mental illness, as an individual attempts to “self-medicate” the symptoms of mental illness with illicit or prescription drugs.
These attempts, while misguided, may provide some immediate relief to the individual, but will inevitably worsen their mental condition over time. In other cases, a drug or alcohol addiction will lead to mental illness, as drug-induced psychosis or alcohol-related depression may drastically alter an individual’s mental state.
Research indicates that women tend to develop a mood disorder prior to developing an addiction, while men tend to suffer from the addiction first, resulting in a subsequent mental illness. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the onset of an addiction or mental illness, these conditions will eventually become deeply intertwined; and all occurring addictions and mental health disorders must be treated simultaneously to achieve successful recovery.
Environmental & Genetic Factors
While the exact causes of addiction and mental illness remain largely unknown, research indicates that a variety of environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the development of a dual diagnosis.
Gender may also play a role, as men experience higher overall rates of substance abuse for most drugs. Men are also more likely to suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder, while women are more prone to mood and anxiety disorders.
Recent studies suggest that gender-specific treatment is the most beneficial option for men and women with a dual diagnosis, as it allows them to safely discuss the circumstances surrounding their addictions and mental health in an environment of mutual understanding.
A dually diagnosed individual will face immense challenges on the road to recovery. Many experience issues including family/social problems, unemployment, high-risk behaviors, legal problems, incarceration (over 20% of the U.S. prison population is considered dually diagnosed) and chronic relapse as a result of their condition. They are also at higher risk for suicide than other addicts or alcoholics.