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What Does It Mean When Addiction and Mental Illness Co-Occur?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over nine million Americans are battling not just substance abuse disorder, but also mental health disorders. 

Given the state of our healthcare system in the United States, it’s no surprise that people with mental health issues aren’t getting the care they need. When a person who suffers from mental illness is also a substance abuser, they are referred to as having a dual diagnosis. These two conditions commonly co-occur because un-insured or under-insured people turn to illicit drugs or alcohol in order to self-medicate. 

Two Sides of the Same Coin

In order to properly and effectively treat either of these conditions that co-occur, it’s important to look at the whole picture. This means taking into consideration the person’s depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis, or other mental health issues, as well as that individual’s reliance on drugs or alcohol to get through their days. 

While there are many factors that influence a person’s addiction, ranging from hereditary predisposition to their peer group and lifestyle, mental illness plays a major part. In many cases, the first and most important step in ending drug or alcohol abuse is addressing the underlying mental health conditions that inform it.

Conversely, becoming sober can also have a profound impact on the individual’s state of mind and emotional landscape. In other words, a dual diagnosis means looking at both sides of the same coin. The experts at this dual diagnosis treatment center understand the importance of treating both conditions in tandem.

The First Stages of Treatment for Diagnoses That Co-Occur

The treatment for dual diagnosis is largely the same as for addiction. First, the patient may need to undergo detox. This process is conducted under medical supervision. It allows them to come off the drug of choice while also avoiding or minimizing the effects of physical withdrawal. 

Next, rehab is in order. At this stage, the patient’s emotional state, including mental illness, is evaluated. Counselors and addiction specialists will develop a treatment plan specifically tailored to the individual’s situation, needs, and goals.

Many recovering addicts with co-occurring mental illness benefit from medication to control their illness. These may be antidepressant, anti-anxiety, or mood-stabilizing drugs, or a combination. Controlled substances and any medication that has the potential for abuse are usually omitted from a patient’s treatment plan if he or she has a history of drug addiction.

Long Term Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Once the patient has successfully completed detox and rehab, and their mental illness stabilized through the use of medication, the real emotional work will begin. Over time, the individual will be asked to unpack childhood trauma or other deep-seated emotional issues. Unless these are addressed and resolved, the patient has a much higher chance of relapsing.

Support groups, individual therapy, and sober living skills education are some of the most important tools in a recovering dually diagnosed addict’s toolkit — but there are many more, like mindfulness, art therapy, physical exercise, and peer-to-peer support.

There Is Hope for Dual Diagnosis Patients

Many problems can co-occur when someone who is mentally ill also falls victim to addiction. But that doesn’t mean recovery is hopeless. With the proper treatment of both the addiction and the mental illness, dually diagnosed individuals can recover, survive, and thrive. 

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What Does It Mean When Addiction and Mental Illness Co-Occur?

Written by Divine Magazine

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