A dual diagnosis is when someone suffers from both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time. These two conditions go hand in hand with each other, but we don’t often know why. It could be that a person with a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia, starts self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to numb their pain, and soon they are dependent on the substance. Or it could be that the addiction and overuse of a substance damages the brain and leads to mental illness. We know that both of these possibilities occur and each person needs to be evaluated individually to determine what the underlying problem is and how both conditions can be treated.
Statistics About Co-Occurring Disorders
Dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders are so common that if a patient has one, physicians are beginning to look for the other one also. The government, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Mental Health Association have done much research and released statistics linking the two disorders:
- Thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and fifty-three percent of drug abusers have at least one serious mental illness. (1)
- Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs. (1)
- Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. (2)
- 47 percent of individuals with schizophrenia also had a substance abuse disorder (more than four times as likely as the general population). (3)
- 61 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder also had a substance abuse disorder (more than five times as likely as the general population). (3)
Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
Because the statistics are so clear, many facilities are starting to work to effectively treat both conditions, and some insurance companies are making it easier to do so. Ideally, the patient should go through detox, and then be treated for the substance abuse problem and mental illness at the same time. Focusing on one and not the other will lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and mental illness that is hard to break. In the past, it has been difficult for patients to get the dual help they need because different physicians were needed to treat these conditions separately. Today, some people are being treated for mental illness and substance abuse together in the same facility. Treatment usually consists of counseling, group therapy, and support groups, and sometimes medications are needed to manage the mental illness.
A patient with a dual diagnosis presents special challenges, but there is effective treatment available for both conditions. Research has brought us a long way, so that today many people with co-occurring disorders are being properly treated.