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Dual Diagnosis: My Loved One Abuses Drugs, And Has Other Mental Health Issues

By  Nigistry Lulu
While it is commonly accepted that a mental health illness can coincide with a substance abuse problem, researchers are working to figure out why.

Dual diagnosis affects approximately about 8.9 million Americans each year, and of those only, 7.4% receive the appropriate treatment.

“There is a very clear correlation between one's mental health and the development of an addiction, and each has a good chance of triggering the other," says Dr. Ayanna Abrams, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Atlanta, GA. "Substances are commonly used to mitigate the slightest to the most severe mental and emotional distress, while certain mental health conditions are correlated with poorer decision making, impulsive behaviors, and substance use.”

While it is commonly accepted that a mental health disorder can coincide with a substance abuse problem, researchers are working to figure out why.

What is a dual diagnosis?

“A dual diagnosis means co-occurring mental health diagnoses; someone presents with a psychiatric condition simultaneous to (not necessarily caused by or causing) a substance use diagnosis," says Dr. Abrams. "Each diagnosis can influence or exacerbate the other. For example, someone attempting to cope with depressive symptoms by drinking alcohol, and they later develop an alcohol tolerance.”

How do people know they have a dual diagnosis?

The signs of a dual diagnosis will depend upon which mental health disorder is diagnosed and the drug of choice. For example, if you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana abuse and bipolar disorder, the signs of these issues will be different from those of a patient who has a cocaine addiction and has schizophrenia. 

Mental Health America reports that patients with distinct mental health disorders are at the following rates of increased risk for the development of a substance abuse disorder:

  • Antisocial personality disorder: 15.5%
  • Manic disorder: 14.5%
  • Schizophrenia: 10.1%
  • Panic disorder: 4.3%
  • Major depressive disorder: 4.1%
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): 3.4%
  • Phobias: 2.4%

Are there facilities/programs that specifically work with dual-diagnosis patients?

Dual diagnosis treatment centers can help individuals dealing with simultaneous mental health and substance use disorders. To find a dual diagnosis treatment facility, you can:

  • Visit NAMI and SAMHSA websites for resources and facilities
  • Use a behavioral health treatment locator tool
  • Ask your doctor for a rehab center recommendation
  • Ask your therapist for a recommendation to a dual diagnosis center
  • Call WebMD's Treatment Advisors at 855-466-7204

What can I do to help my loved one?

It can be hard to approach a loved one struggling with addiction. Dr. Abrams suggests “being a good listener, practicing empathy and not trying to control are ways to be present with their struggle and allow room for them to come to you when they are in distress.”