Recognizing Dual Diagnosis

For a person with more than one mental disorder, the symptomatic details of one’s illness can be broad and ill-defined. Due to the nature of co-occurring conditions, pinpointing and delineating the extent of a person’s problems can be extremely difficult. Many disorders exhibit similar characteristics. A person can even suffer from multiple specific phobias at the same time. Mental illness and drug addiction share a fair amount of common ground as well. For example, when an individual shows signs of paranoia, it may be challenging to identify if the hallucinations and delusions are being caused by the natural onset of schizophrenia or if they are the consequence of a psychoactive substance.

Many types of disorders are commonly associated with substance addiction. Anxiety disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia all have accumulated research that demonstrates a link between each respective mental condition and addiction. Another key fact is that coexisting conditions can be caused bidirectionally. A person may start with drugs and develop a disorder or have a disorder and develop an addiction.

Studies have also shown that there are some general factors to look out for when reviewing one’s state of mental health including:

  • External causes: Just as crucial as biological factors, environmental stressors can also deeply impact an individual in terms of cognition, emotion and behavior. Factors such as stress, violent or sexual trauma and the use of substances are common triggers of later addiction and other mental illnesses.
  • Possible hereditary weaknesses: A family history of drug addiction and/or mental disorder may mean a person will be more susceptible to both conditions. In many cases, the person will have a greater risk of an additional problem after the onset of the original addiction or disorder, which is why getting treatment is recommended sooner rather than later.
  • Changes in the brain: A large part of substance addiction is its effect on the brain’s activity within certain neurological centers. This is also true for many mental illnesses that are caused by abnormalities in these same areas. Modern diagnostic tools can observe these areas that control processes like reward and stress, and determine if they are affected by abuse or certain mental disorders.
  • Understanding the nature of developmental disorders: Both drug use and mental disorders typically begin during adolescence or even younger. During these periods, a person’s brain is growing and maturing at exponential rates. Unfortunately, becoming addicted to a substance or having another mental condition start at this important time may rewire the brain in very maladaptive ways. The dysfunctional development of drug addiction allows a higher risk for developing a mental disorder and vice versa.

Whatever the causes are of co-occurring disorders, it is important that, once a dual diagnosis is identified, help is found. Before obtaining the opinion of a professional though, here are some signs that may indicate a dual diagnosis:

  • Self-medication: using drugs or alcohol to deal with issues such as symptoms of depression or anxiety can indicate a dual diagnosis
  • The progression of the mental illness: When person’s mental health condition is worsening due to drug or alcohol use
  • The progression of an addiction: When a person’s drug or alcohol addiction worsens because of a pre-existing or newly developed mental health disorder
  • Continuously unsuccessful treatment: Repeated attempts to overcome an addiction or mental health disorder that fail often are indicators that there is an underlying problem that needs to be taken care of

Just as a mental illness ravages the internal chemistry of a human’s brain, addiction can carry out the same damage simply induced by a foreign substance. Essentially, it is a disease that causes all sorts of multilevel dysfunction, such as compulsion, uncontrollable urges and dangerous behavior that ignores all rational consequences. These changes occur in some of the brain regions that are similarly stricken by other mental disorders.

It is also important to remember that just as in the case of a single disorder, multiple disorders vary from person to person. Even two individuals with the same dual diagnosis can describe their conditions differently. Receiving an accurate diagnosis is absolutely necessary in an effort to deliver appropriate and effective treatment and therapy. By educating the public with this innovative information, including medical and mental practitioners, it can better serve their visitors with indicative criteria for co-occurring conditions.

If you or someone you know shows signs of struggling with co-occurring conditions, the sooner help is found the better. Even in the case of a single known disorder, another one may be lying underneath the surface. At the Dual Diagnosis Helpline, our team specializes in identifying and addressing multiple disorders. Speak with one of our consultants to learn more or to get set up with a treatment facility in your area. Chat online or call 855-981-6047 today!