Dual Diagnosis: The Relationship Between Substance Use and Mental Illness
Understanding Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis, also known as a co-occurring disorder or comorbidity, refers to the coexistence of a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, alongside a substance use disorder (SUD), like alcohol or drug addiction, in the same individual.
Dual diagnosis in mental health is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Research has shown that people with mental health disorders are more likely to use substances to cope with their symptoms.1
It’s essential to recognize and understand the factors that contribute to substance use and mental illness. That way, integrated treatment approaches can be developed to help people with dual diagnoses lead healthier lives.
How Do Substance Use and Mental Illness Co-Occur?
Experiencing trauma, especially during childhood, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can increase the risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism. People who have PTSD may turn to substance use to reduce their anxiety and depression.
Altered Brain Chemistry
- Frequent mood swings
Isolation and social withdrawal are common for people with mental health conditions. It can also contribute to a decline in mental well-being. To cope with isolation, people with mental health disorders may turn to alcohol and drug use.
Factors Contributing to the Dual Diagnosis of Substance Use and Mental Illness
- Early life experiences
- Family systems
- Peer pressure
- Accessibility to substances
Persistent stress related to family, work, or life events can contribute to mental health disorders. Substance use may be seen as the only way to cope with and reduce stress-related symptoms. This can lead to the development of substance use disorders.
- Low self-esteem
- Poor coping skills
- Emotional dysregulation
Access to Treatment
Substance-Induced Mental Illnesses
How Substance Use and Mental Illness Affects Health and Well-Being
- Job loss
- Strained relationships
- Social isolation
Increased Hospitalization Rate
Greater Risk of Self-Harm and Suicide
Diminished Physical Health
Comorbidity and Its Impact on Substance Use and Mental Illness Treatment
What is Comorbidity?
- More severe symptoms than either disorder alone
- A higher risk of relapse
- A higher hospitalization rate
- Higher suicide ideation and attempt rate
- More complex diagnoses and treatment
- Long-term health challenges
Significance of Comorbidity in Treatment
- It makes diagnosis easier for our professionals
- It makes it easier to manage both disorders together and in isolation
- It improves treatment outcomes by reducing substance use and improving mental health
- It reduces the risk of relapse
- Treatment plans are tailored to each person’s needs
- It’s easier to teach coping skills to manage both disorders
- It helps to improve a person’s quality of life
Common Mental Health Disorders that Occur with Substance Use
People with bipolar disorder may misuse substances during manic episodes. They do this to intensify euphoria or self-medicate during extreme highs and lows.
Substance use can also interfere with the effectiveness of prescribed antipsychotic medication. It can also increase relapse and eventual hospitalization rates.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many people with PTSD use substances like alcohol or drugs to cope with:
- Distressing memories
How Symptoms of Substance Use and Mental Illness Interact
Substance use can intensify the severity of mental health symptoms. For example, alcohol and certain drugs may provide temporary relief from anxiety.
But, when it wears off, it creates a cycle where people use substances to escape emotional pain, worsening their mental health symptoms.
Increased Risk of Substance-Induced Disorders
Response to Stress
- Dysregulation of the brain’s fear circuitry
How this Interaction Complicates Diagnosis and Treatment
- Mimicking or overlapping symptoms of mental illness
- Temporarily reducing symptoms of mental disorders, making examination and assessment challenging
- Creating room for misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis
- Complicating medication management due to the interference of substances with prescribed medication
- Increasing relapse risk increases due to self-medication
- Causing people to be resistant to treatment or less engaged in the recovery process
Integrated Treatment Options for People with Substance Use and Mental Illness
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Motivational enhancement therapy
- Address cravings
- Treat withdrawal symptoms
- Stabilize mood
Group and Family Therapy
Group and family therapy allow patients to share their struggles and experiences. It’s also educational and a means of support from family and peers.
The Role of Medication-Assisted Treatment in Treating Substance Use and Mental Illness
Stabilization of SUD
- Reduce cravings
- Treat withdrawal symptoms
- Sustain recovery
Managing Dual Diagnosis Symptoms
Enhancing Engagement in Treatment
Achieving stability for people with comorbidity is one of the goals of MAT. Medications create a healthy foundation for addressing mental health symptoms. It also helps them develop healthier coping strategies and achieve their recovery goals.
Reducing Relapse Risk
People with co-occurring disorders are at a higher risk of relapse if their substance use disorders are not properly addressed. Medication provides long-term maintenance by reducing the risk of relapse and helping people maintain abstinence from substance use.
How Does the Stigma around Dual Diagnosis Prevent People from Seeking Treatment?
- Keeping people from seeking help early
- Discouraging people from engaging in their treatment program
- Encouraging social isolation from friends and family
- Leading to self-hate and stigmatization
- Delaying the recovery process
- Causing relapse
How Ethos Wellness Can Help
If you or someone you know is showing signs of substance use and mental illness, Ethos Wellness is the best place for you. We have a people-first, principle-driven approach that puts patients and team members above all.
Ethos Wellness aims to provide our patients with an integrated continuum of clinical care. Our priority is to help patients and their families in achieving healing and long-term wellness. With our well-equipped treatment facility, your recovery is certain.
What We Treat
- Substance use disorders
- Eating disorders
- Co-occurring disorders
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Co-ed rehab
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Outpatient therapy
- Psychoeducational groups
- PTSD therapy
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- United Healthcare
- Magellan Healthcare
Contact Ethos Wellness Today
We encourage you to contact us to learn more about our available treatment programs. Your recovery and well-being are our number one priority.