Drug addiction can be a difficult disease to care for. Even with years of medical research and psychiatric studies to show the severity of drug abuse on the brain, there is still a lot of stigma attached. Some people have a hard time believing that addiction is really a disease, referring to it more as a moral failing. Hundreds of research papers have been done on what people in the field of recovery call ‘the disease model’ of addiction. Yet even after this diagnosis has been made, many people still suffer from overlapping mental disorders or psychiatric traumas.
The catchall term for a person with both substance abuse issues and another mental disease such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorders is called dual diagnosis. While these may sound like rare cases, they are becoming increasingly common as addiction specialists continue to learn more about the brain. Some studies have shown that nearly 20% of addicts suffer from dual diagnosis symptoms. Other research has noted that people who have mental disorders are much more likely to have issues with substance abuse, homelessness, or even basic impulse control.
Realizing that someone you love—your child, spouse, parent, or even friend—has a problem with drugs or alcohol can be terrifying. Yet how do you know if they also have a dual diagnosis issue? Are there universal warning signs? Is it possible to simply figure it out? Unfortunately the short answer to both of these questions is no. Most dual diagnosis cases are not discovered until the person is already in treatment for drug abuse. Addiction professionals such as counselors and psychologists are usually needed to make an accurate diagnosis and even then, there can be multiple accompanying mental illnesses which have usually been hidden under years of drug abuse.
The tricky part is that the signs of substance abuse are often similar to the signs for mental disease—paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, weight change. So if a person has been using drugs and alcohol for years, their dual diagnosis may have gone undiagnosed. Once the individual gets initially sober, it is much easier for clinicians to make an accurate diagnosis.
The good news is that even with severe dual diagnosis, there is still hope. Many treatment centers specialize in the kind of one on one care that these addicts need to begin long term recovery from both addiction and any underlying mental disease. Every psychologist has their own method for treatment as well. Some prefer to treat one issue at a time, while others believe that immediate medical treatment for the mental disease can be the first step in treating all issues. Each patient and family member has to find their own path to recovery, just like addicts who are not dual diagnosis.
Recovery from addiction is a highly personal and introspective experience, in many ways similar to treating mental diseases. Instead of seeing a dual diagnosis as an even greater problem, family members should realize that this is an even greater opportunity for love and support.