How to Know if a Dual-Diagnosis Program is for You

Real life is complicated. Our minds, our bodies, our feelings, even our experiences – on paper, it seems things should be so clear-cut. We think this, we want that, we feel X, Y, or Z…

In reality, of course, it’s rarely that simple. Feelings crash into thoughts which disrupt our plans which then change our feelings – we are complicated creatures, it seems.

Diagnostic Challenges

The same is true when it comes to diagnosing disruptions to living our best life. Mental health issues and behavioral disorders are very real, and often very damaging, conditions. We don’t choose them, and they don’t always each stay in their box. They interact and complicate one another without asking our permission.

Substance abuse is a harsh disruptor as well. Sometimes it’s just one thing, but it’s not unusual for substance use disorder (SUD) to take a variety of forms for the same individual. Like I said, real life is complicated.

People wrestling with mental health issues or behavioral disorders are more likely than the general population to seek relief or solace through the misuse of alcohol or drugs, whether they come from pharmacies or neighborhood dealers. That’s certainly not a good thing, but it makes sense – things feel messed up and out of control. We don’t always know what to do or how to feel, and the false promise of whatever substance is available can prove overwhelming. And sometimes, mental health issues just plain make it harder to make our best choices.

Conversely, individuals struggling with substance abuse are more likely than the general population to have mental health issues or behavioral disorders. The disruptions of addiction can lay the groundwork for latent issues to manifest themselves unexpectedly, or otherwise trigger thoughts and behaviors which otherwise might have remained dormant.

The cause-and-effect of it all isn’t always clear, but the correlations are undeniable. And if you’re the individual, your chances of sorting it all out by yourself are statistically slim. You need someone with training and experience in just this sort of difficulty.

Dual Diagnosis Experts

The good news is, you’re not alone. You’re not even some rare exception to how struggle is supposed to work. There’s a name for what you’re experiencing: “co-occurring disorders,” sometimes referred to simply as “dual-diagnosis.”

Either term simply means you’re dealing with a combination of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health or behavioral issues. It’s unlikely you’ll find your way out on your own, but there is a way through this to a better version of you. And we can help you get there.

Dual-diagnosis situations require experts with both the training and experience to recognize and understand the many factors at play in the same individual. The symptoms for many types of substance abuse and many varieties of mental health or related issues overlap and impact one another in innumerable ways.

How Do I Know If I Need Help?

That’s a great question, although there’s not a single, simple answer. In general, however, there are common warning signs that should at least prompt a phone call or setting up an appointment:

  • You no longer enjoy the things you used to enjoy (and maybe you don’t enjoy much of anything).
  • Your mood or overall attitude has changed dramatically without obvious external reasons.
  • Anger, depression, defensiveness, paranoia, or any other intense emotions or perceptions “take over” from time to time
  • It’s hard to think clearly or to focus for extended periods of time.
  • You’re no longer motivated to take care of yourself or your surroundings.
  • You used to “self-medicate” to deal with stress or extreme situations; now you do it just to feel “normal.”
  • Friends or family members have started asking you a lot of questions about what’s going on with you or commenting that you don’t “seem like yourself.”
  • You have strong thoughts, feelings, or urges, which are destructive or dangerous or which drive you to do things that don’t make sense
  • Performance at work or school drops off suddenly, or you find yourself having trouble with things that used to be easy – keeping up with the bills, buying the right groceries, etc.
  • You’ve become impulsive or unpredictable.
  • You find yourself thinking about suicide or self-harm or talking about suicide even without intending to.
  • You have a family history of mental illness or substance abuse.
  • Friends, family, or co-workers urge you to get professional help, even if you don’t think you need it or don’t understand why.

When In Doubt…

If any of these describe you, or if you’re still not sure, don’t wait. Reach out. Let us help you figure out the best way forward to confront mental health challenges as well as providing effective addiction treatment. No matter what you’ve done or how you feel, you are not alone.

The Link between Depression and Substance Abuse

The relationship between substance abuse and depression is bidirectional. This means that individuals who have depression do experience an increased chance of having a substance abuse problem and those with addiction are at a greater risk of having depression.

Many people who suffer from depression will abuse drugs or drink in order to boost their mood or escape feelings of misery or guilt. However, certain substances, including alcohol, have depressant properties, which escalate feelings of sadness. Using substances to alter any negative feelings can become part of a cycle, which hinders the ability to get treatment for depression.

Does Depression or Substance Abuse Come First?

It can be hard to say which comes first since the results will vary from person to person. Some will develop drug addiction or alcoholism while others develop depression first. A study published in the National Institute of Health’s U.S. Library of Medicine shows that alcohol can actually induce depression. This is because it alters the level of serotonin. When serotonin levels rise, the symptoms of depression can sometimes decrease. Those who have depression can sometimes self medicate in order to treat the problem. Over time, substance abuse will worsen depression. Alcohol dependence and drugs can cause a lot of hardships across every aspect of life and these hardships can make depression worse.

Both alcohol use and mental illness will have a similar underlying cause. Genetics play a role in both substance abuse and depression. Someone who has a sibling or parent with depression can be two to three times more likely to develop it than an average person. Both addiction and mental illness can stem from issues in the brain. When someone is vulnerable to one type of brain disease, they can also be vulnerable to other conditions as well. Both mental health disorders and addiction affect the same chemicals and molecules in the brain. Trauma and childhood stress can put a person at a greater risk for depression and substance abuse. Further research is needed to determine the exact reasons why this can occur. Stress can be triggered by neglect, domestic violence, sexual or emotion abuse, or the death of a parent at a young age. Regardless of a person’s age, stress can be a risk factor for depression. When the body releases the stress hormone cortisol, it stimulates symptoms that are similar to depression.

Can Drug Abuse Be a Cause of Depression?

Drug addiction and alcoholism may be able to cause mental illness because they change the chemical balance in the brain. If a mental health specialist doesn’t diagnose and treat the mental illness quickly, it can also encourage the use of substances. Addiction can be a dangerous cycle once it starts.

How Drug Abuse Can Hinder Depression Treatment

Those who have co-occurring substance abuse disorders and depression usually receive specialized treatment to manage both disorders to be able to improve symptoms and increase the effectiveness of rehab. If someone with depression is getting treatment, such as therapy or medication, and notices that drinking numbs feelings, he or she may still be inclined to continue engaging in that activity and avoid evidence-based treatment. This patient may think that substance use works better than medicine or therapy and stop prescriptions or therapy visits. The substance abuse can then create other symptoms of depression, making it even harder to treat the individual.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Depression

Using drugs or drinking to wind down at the end of the day can lead an individual to think that symptoms are improving. Instead, this can just be creating more health problems. Reaching for alcohol or drugs to help lift spirits can cause depression symptoms to worsen. Depression poses risk such as a suppressed immune system, self-harm, a weakened body, and accidental injury. When a mental illness occurs alongside substance use, risks to emotion and physical health increase.

How Having Both Affects Treatment

When an individual suffers from both depression and substance abuse, this is called a co-occurring disorder. These disorders require a more comprehensive treatment plan that will effectively address both disorders. One shouldn’t be treated without the other since an individual that isn’t treated for both can have a higher rate of relapse.

It can be common for people to be unaware of either condition. If only the substance abuse is treated then a person can go back to abusing substances whenever they feel depressed. When only the depression is treated, an individual can continue using substances, which can lead to more depression symptoms. Drugs that are used to treat depression can be affected by alcohol intake. The person can still feel depressed and even develop anxiety when drinking and taking the medication. Alcohol can also cause an individual to become sedated or feel drowsy. Treatment for both substance abuse and depression will usually involve a combination of therapy and medications.