On this day, each October, World Mental Health Day is observed worldwide. It’s a day for awareness, mental health education, and advocacy against stigma. It’s also an opportunity to talk about what can be done to make mental care a reality for people all over the world.
Several organizations, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have established a clear link between mental illness and the use of addictive substances.
Approximately 8.9 million Americans have both a mental health and a substance abuse issue.
Many individuals who suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism have co-occurring mental health disorders. People with mental health disorders are more likely than other population groups to also have substance use disorders, but diagnosing these co-occurring disorders can be challenging because of how complex the issues are.
It’s estimated that among people with a serious psychiatric disorder, substance abuse is twice as common compared to people without a mental health disorder. It’s believed that the number of people in the U.S. with co-occurring disorders is almost 8.5 million.
These issues may be at the root of many addiction and alcohol problems and a major contributing factor to substance abuse. Dual diagnosis addiction treatment addresses both the underlying psychiatric issues and the substance abuse disorder. When the term “dual diagnosis” is used to describe a drug and alcohol treatment center, it means that the facility is equipped to treat mental health issues in addition to substance abuse.
Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both the underlying psychiatric issues and the substance abuse disorder and is often necessary to facilitate a successful recovery from addiction or alcoholism.
What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?
A co-occurring disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder that someone can have in addition to a substance use disorder. People who are chemically dependent often have mental health disorders that are mood or anxiety-related.
A substance use disorder is diagnosed as a medical condition as well. It can include alcohol abuse or drug dependence. A substance use disorder is diagnosed based on a set of symptoms that indicate the substance use is interfering with daily functionality and causing harmful effects physically, mentally or in other areas of a person’s life.
People with a severe mental illness have among the highest rates of co-occurring substance use disorders.
Some of the mental health disorders a person may have, along with a substance use disorder include:
- Major depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Why Is There a Link Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse?
Why is the rate of substance abuse higher among people with mental illnesses?
There are different theories as to why this could be the case. Possible reasons include:
- Some professionals theorize that the imbalances in brain chemistry that lead to mental health disorders could also predispose someone to substance abuse
- Both mental health disorders and substance abuse have family and genetic components
- Often if someone is experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, particularly if it’s not yet diagnosed or treated, they will use chemical substances to self-medicate the symptoms
- It’s possible that the use of substances can actually trigger symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder or worsen these symptoms
How Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?
When someone is believed to demonstrate symptoms of a psychiatric condition along with a substance use disorder, they need specialized care and treatment.
Any treatment plan or program should begin with an in-depth evaluation. This will not only help determine a diagnosis, but it can be a way to delve into the very specific personal needs of the individual.
The information that’s derived from an initial evaluation and intake assessment can then be used to create a treatment plan that deals with the psychiatric disorder and the substance abuse simultaneously.
Two scenarios may occur when someone initially seeks treatment for addiction. In one scenario, the patient may already know they have a psychiatric disorder. In the other scenario, going to addiction treatment may be the first time a person ever receives a mental health diagnosis.
Some of the elements that might be used when providing treatment for co-occurring disorders include:
- Individual therapy or counseling is integral to dual diagnosis treatment because it can specifically address not only the issues surrounding someone’s substance abuse but also the symptoms they experience as a result of their psychiatric disorder
- Behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy is a way to help someone recognize their own thoughts and attitudes, and as a result of that recognition, begin to change their behaviors.
- When necessary, medication management may be part of dual diagnosis treatment. Medication can help treat symptoms of the psychiatric disorder, which can promote better outcomes for the addiction treatment program.
- Group therapy is a very important part of dual diagnosis treatment for people with addiction disorders and mental health disorders.
- Family therapy can help the loved ones of someone struggling with co-occurring disorders to better understand what is happening
- Most dual diagnosis treatment programs will begin laying a foundation for 12-step programs, something a person can participate in long after the initial addiction treatment ends
- Holistic treatment approaches are often utilized in dual diagnosis programs because they address the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the patient
If both addiction treatment and mental health services aren’t provided, it’s much more likely someone will leave treatment too early or will relapse after completing a treatment program. Dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders can also address and proactively deal with possible barriers to treatment.
For example, someone with a psychiatric disorder may demonstrate volatility in their emotions. This can deter them from staying in treatment long enough, or engaging with treatment. With a dual diagnosis approach, this can be addressed and dealt with in a way that’s going to help the patient continue with their treatment.