How Common Is Dual Diagnosis?

Addiction and substance abuse don’t exist in a vacuum. It often develops hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions, an occurrence called ‘dual diagnosis’. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly 33 percent of individuals suffering from mental illness also succumb to substance abuse. Among those suffering with a severe mental illness, this figure increases closer to 50 percent.

According to NAMI, Dual diagnoses are more common among men than women; and it’s more likely to occur in drug users than in alcohol abusers—53 percent to 37 percent to be exact. However, no definitive pattern exists for which generally occurs first.

Types of Dual Diagnosis

Some addictions tend to develop from mental illnesses.

  • Schizophrenia is most frequently associated with marijuana addiction, but the American Journal of Psychiatry reports that approximately 50 percent of those suffering from this disorder abuse some sort of substance.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can result in opioid addiction. Opioids tend to produce a strong sense of well-being, counteracting symptoms associated with PTSD, such as anxiety. PTSD is often the result of a traumatic incident that may have resulted in painful physical injuries for which prescription opioid painkillers were prescribed, instigating the addiction.
  • Alcoholism occurs frequently in patients suffering from Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Binge drinkers and alcohol abusers are 21 times more likely to suffer from ASPD than those who do not drink to excess.
  • Heroin addiction is believed to eventually result in depression by interfering with certain portions of the brain. A downward spiral often occurs when individuals become physically incapable of experiencing pleasure without taking the drug.

Treatment of Co-Occurring Illnesses

Co-occurring mental illnesses and addiction disorders exist codependent of one another. When one gets worse or goes untreated, the other typically gets worse too. This often necessitates specialized treatment called ‘integrated intervention’. The course of integrated treatment may not be the same for every individual as it depends on the substance being abused as well as the co-occurring mental illness. Some common approaches exist, however; and both the addiction and the mental health disorder must be addressed.

  • Detoxification typically occurs first and is often addressed in an inpatient program so that the patient can be closely monitored and withdrawal symptoms can be addressed. It may include gradually weaning the patient off the use of the substance in question.
  • Rehabilitation often follows in an inpatient facility, or in a group home for those whose dual diagnoses do not require 24/7 care.
  • Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, may involve ongoing treatment to deal with the underlying mental health issue and to address recurring patterns that could potentially lead to relapse. Mental health medications often play a role as well.

Know that if you are suffering from both a mental disorder and substance abuse, you are certainly not alone. A qualified facility and trained medical professionals can treat both problems successfully.