When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems, but there are treatments that can help. With proper treatment, support, and self-help strategies, you can overcome a dual diagnosis and reclaim your life.
In a dual diagnosis, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other and interact. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse as well. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.
According to research:
• Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
• 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
• Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
It can be difficult to diagnose a substance abuse problem and a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. It takes time to tease out what might be a mental disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem. Complicating the issue is denial. Denial is common in substance abuse. It’s hard to admit how dependent you are on alcohol or drugs or how much they affect your life. Denial frequently occurs in mental disorders as well. The symptoms of depression or anxiety can be frightening, so you may ignore them and hope they go away. Or you may be ashamed or afraid of being viewed as weak if you admit the problem.
JUST REMEMBER: substance abuse problems and mental health issues don’t get better when they’re ignored. In fact, they are likely to get much worse. You don’t have to feel this way. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards conquering your demons and enjoying life again
- Consider family history
If people in your family have grappled with either a mental disorder such as depression or alcohol abuse or drug addiction, you have a higher risk of developing these problems yourself
- Consider your sensitivity to alcohol or drugs
Are you highly sensitive to the effects of alcohol or drugs? Have you noticed a relationship between your substance use and your mental health? For example, do you get depressed when you drink?
- Look at symptoms when you’re sober
While some depression or anxiety is normal after you’ve stopped drinking or doing drugs, if the symptoms persist after you’ve achieved sobriety, you may be dealing with a mental health problem
- Review your treatment history
Have you been treated before for either your addiction or your mental health problem? Did the substance abuse treatment fail because of complications from your mental health issue or vice versa?
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