A deeper look at addiction and mental illness.
A co-occurring disorder describes the simultaneous presence of a mental illness and a substance use disorder. According to the National Bureau of Research (NBER), of individuals that have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, 69% have turned to alcohol, 84% to cocaine and 68% to cigarettes. Another study conducted by the American Journal of Psychiatry demonstrates that as many as half of all individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have a substance abuse disorder.
Despite the apparent daunting nature of co-occurring disorders, they can be successfully treated. Millions of people affected with co-occurring disorders live healthy, stable and productive lives thanks to treatment.
Which comes first–addiction or mental illness?
Many times, co-occurring disorders occur as a result of an individual with a mental illness attempting to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol (which often leads to addiction). In other instances, prolonged substance abuse can lead to mental illnesses such as depression, paranoia, anxiety, and dementia.
Many people wonder: which comes first – addiction or mental illness? It’s a good question. The answer, however, is much like the one you’d get asking whether the chicken or egg comes first – a bit of a mystery.
What is clear is that the two conditions mimic a magnet affect. When an individual has a pre-existing mental illness, they may instinctively try to ease the symptoms and effects with drugs and/or alcohol. For those who have developed an addiction first, the continued use of drugs and/or alcohol can chemically alter and disrupt the physiological condition of the body, leading to any number of mental illness disorders. In some cases, an individual may be genetically predisposed to mental illness that, in essence, is “activated” by an addiction.
Regardless of what condition presents first, each must be identified before a dual diagnosis is made. It’s important to remember, too, that each person is different. Symptoms of mental illness may have begun in childhood (treated or untreated) for some, whereas others only as teenagers or adults. Or, alternately, an individual may develop a mental illness and substance use disorder concurrently. All these considerations are vital in determining the best level of individualized care and long-term treatment options for co-occurring disorders.
A Deeper Look at Addiction and Mental Illness
If addiction and mental illness were able to be placed side by side under a microscope, the line between the two would most likely appear blurry. This is partially due to the fact that addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), classifies as a mental illness. As similar as the two are, there are defined distinctions:
- Addiction is a condition in which chemical alterations (from the body’s absorption of drugs and/or alcohol) occur within the brain and disrupt the normal functions affecting an individual’s needs and desires. As a result, an individual may exhibit compulsive behaviors and the inability to control impulses.
- Mental Illness refers to a biochemical process that alters a person’s thinking, feelings and/or mood. Mental disorders may be developed and triggered from traumatic events, prolonged stress and genetic factors.
An assessment and/or screening tool is the first step in identifying the presence and depth of an addiction (mild to severe addiction). There are also a number of online tests that can help evaluate the level of substance abuse.
In terms of diagnosing a mental illness, licensed professionals will often refer to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-5 is compiled from extensive research from hundreds of mental health experts. The manual was created in an effort to have a unified system of classifying and diagnosing mental disorders.
Experts who deal with mental illness have identified common disorders associated with addiction, many of which depend on the particular substance being abused. For example:
- Although experts haven’t deduced exactly why, there appears to be a strong connection between marijuana addiction and schizophrenia.
- Individuals with a cocaine addiction most commonly experience anxiety-related mental disorders such as paranoia, the reason being that the drug induces feelings of power and euphoria.
- PTSD is often connected with opioid addiction (prescription painkillers), most likely due to the calming effect produced by the drugs and the long-term reliance that can turn into an addiction.
- A heroin addiction affects the receptors in the brain responsible for pleasure. The disruption to the pleasure center of the brain can often lead to depression.
Mental Illness and Substance Abuse – Dual Diagnosis and Treatment
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), individuals who display extreme changes in mood, disorientation or confused thinking, avoid close knit relationships and social activities and exhibit or verbalize suicidal thoughts, may indicate signs of mental illness.
Whether a person is showing signs of substance abuse, mental illness, or both, it’s imperative to seek professional help, particularly if someone is demonstrating suicidal behavior.
How is a Dual Diagnosis Treated?
Obviously the sooner a co-occurring disorder is discovered, and a dual diagnosis made, the better. No matter how discouraging a dual diagnosis may first appear, treatment offers hope and an opportunity for a sober and happy life. Since each person is unique, treatment for not one, but two (or more) disorders should be catered to an individual’s specific needs.
Typically, an individual suffering from a co-occurring disorder benefits from undergoing detoxification as the first component of his/her treatment. Following detox, it’s best, if possible, to enroll the individual into an inpatient treatment program that addresses all aspects of the client’s comprehensive mental illness and substance abuse issues.
Treatment, of course, is simply the beginning phase on the road to lifelong recovery. Those with a dual diagnosis who supplement a treatment experience with psychiatric services, therapy, 12-step groups and similar sources of support have been successful in maintaining healthy and lasting sobriety.
Futures is Dedicated to Treating Dual Diagnosis
At Futures, we know the delicate balance that comes with caring for an individual with substance abuse who also suffers from mental illness. For that reason, we provide gentle, expert, comprehensive treatment for a number of co-occurring disorders.
One important step to treatment at Futures is conducting a psychological evaluation early in the treatment process – typically following detox. This helps us determine exactly what kind of steps to incorporate to address both a substance use disorder as well as any identified mental health concerns/issues.
The following are examples of co-occurring disorders that we treat at Futures:
- ADD and substance abuse
- Anxiety and Substance abuse
- Bipolar disorder and Substance abuse
- OCD and substance abuse
- Depression and substance abuse
If concerned that a loved one has a substance use disorder and a mental health issue, we can help. Untreated, co-occurring disorders can continue to wreak havoc in the life of the individual and those who love him/her. Depression, anxiety and paranoia can affect motivation, making the individual reluctant to enter rehab. Intervention is often required to help these individuals take the first step toward healing.
Professional treatment programs that address substance use disorders, along with co-occurring disorders offer psychiatric treatment and rehab services in the same facility. Care is provided by a multidisciplinary treatment team, and recovery proceeds at the client’s pace. Dual diagnosis treatment specialists are trained and licensed/certified in both addiction recovery and mental health, making them uniquely equipped to treat clients with co-occurring disorders. Futures of Palm Beach provides a full range of services for individuals with a dual diagnosis. Starting with a comprehensive psychological evaluation, we develop treatment plans that are tailored to the client’s needs.
Our recovery services include individual psychotherapy, self-help groups, family counseling, behavioral modification training, and alternative therapies. We offer these services in a spa-like setting in Palm Beach County, Florida. The sooner you reach out for help for addiction and mental illness, the sooner you can restore your physical and psychological health. Call us today to learn more about our innovative approach to treating co-occurring disorders.
Don’t let financial uncertainty, transportation issues or fear keep you from reaching out. We can provide the necessary assistance to get your love one the help he/she desperately needs (including an intervention if needed). Call us today to learn more.