Dual diagnosis is the state in which a person is simultaneously diagnosed with a mental health disorder and is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction. The term only refers to the fact that the issues are occurring at the same time and does not indicate whether one caused the other or which (if any) came before the other.
Any mental health disorder can co-occur with any drug or alcohol addiction. However, the ways in which specific drugs affect the brain and the ways that mental health disorders affect the brain are very specific. Because of these specificities, some of the mental health disorders a person can have occur alongside addictions more often than others. A few examples of this include:
Anxiety and Addiction
Anxiety is actually a class of mental health disorders, though generalized anxiety is a disorder in and of itself. And anxiety in general is the most common mental health problem in the United States today. In the United States, 40 million people 18 or older suffer from an anxiety disorder every year according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
When anxiety and addiction co-occur, patients are most likely to abuse sedatives or alcohol. Alcohol and sedatives are both types of drugs that have a depressive effect on the brain and nervous system. This essentially induces calm and relaxation as well as sleepiness and tiredness at times. Examples of sedatives include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Ambien.
OCD and Addiction
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a specific type of anxiety or panic disorder that is defined by the obsessive and repeated thoughts that a person experiences and the associated uncontrollable, compulsive behaviors that accompany those thoughts.
Some of the more specific symptoms of OCD include:
People who suffer from both OCD and an addiction most often have an addiction to opiates. Opiates (also known as opioids or narcotics) are powerful drugs that block a person's perception and feelings of pain as well as have a strong effect on the basic functions of the body including a person's respiration and heart rate. This slowing of the basic functions of the human body, and the lack of pain are extremely relaxing and calming. Opiates include fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and heroin.
Psychotherapy is a form of counseling that focuses on the discussions that occur between a recovering addict and their therapist. These discussions are designed to help a person discover the behaviors and cognitions that contribute to the symptoms of their mental health disorder as well as their addiction, how the addiction and mental health disorder interact with one another and are connected, and ways to overcome those issues and break those connections to avoid relapse.
Psychopharmacology involves having a physician or a psychiatrist prescribe a person prescription drugs to treat their mental health disorder. When a person also has a drug or alcohol addiction with the mental health disorder, special care is taken to ensure that the drug and dosage do not cause a person to relapse of develop a new substance abuse problem or addiction.