Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Dual diagnosis

What is co-occurring substance abuse?

Co-occurring or dual diagnosis is the combination of both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. Physical dependence is identified by tolerance to the drug, and psychological dependence is defined by cravings for the drug or an obsession with getting and staying high. Substance abuse combined with a mental illness can disrupt one’s thoughts, behaviors, and overall well-being. Examples of a co-occurring substance abuse disorders include the combinations of major depression with a drug addiction, a panic disorder with alcohol dependence, or schizophrenia with both a drug and alcohol addiction. There is no single combination of co-occurring substance abuse.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 18.2% of individuals suffering from a mental illness also have a substance abuse disorder or addiction. Continued substance abuse will worsen the symptoms of a mental illness, and symptoms will remain present long after the elimination of drugs or alcohol.

General causes of substance addiction include genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors. Often individuals will use drugs or alcohol as a distraction from the symptoms of a mental health disorder. Those predisposed to a mental health disorder may trigger symptoms by substance abuse. The risk of development is significantly higher when a first-degree relative has the disorder. Diagnosis of substance use disorders is based on evidence that an individual has impaired control, social impairment, risky use and pharmacological criteria.

What are the symptoms of co-occurring substance abuse?

Those suffering from co-occurring substance abuse may experience more severe medical, social, and emotional problems than those suffering from a mental health disorder or substance use disorder alone. They are also at a higher risk for relapses, financial problems, family and social problems, suicide, violence, and severe medical issues.

How is co-occurring substance abuse treated?

Early intervention is critical; for individuals with mental health disorder and substance abuse or addiction, integrated treatment is recommended. Integrated treatment may include medical detox, evaluation, diagnosis, treatment plan, personal therapy, group therapy, family therapy, aftercare plan or after care services and support.

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