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Addiction and Mental Illness: Dual Diagnosis

Posted on :  October 17th, 2014  |  By :  towardsrecovery

For many substance abusers, there is not just a battle against addiction, but also a struggle with mental illness. This concept is known as a dual diagnosis and can be extremely challenging. Mental illness along with addiction is double trouble. Although a dual diagnosis can make recovery more difficult, it is not impossible. Understanding a bit about this condition can help aid one’s recovery.

Which came first?

When it comes to dealing with a dual diagnosis, it reminds one of the old chicken and egg riddle, “Which came first?” There is a question of whether the mental illness is causing the addition or whether the addiction is causing the mental illness. In many cases, it’s difficult to tell because the two conditions are so intimately related and dependent upon each other. Addiction can result in mental illness due to changes in brain chemistry caused by the addictive substances. On the other side of the coin, mental illnesses such as depression may cause a person to abuse drugs or alcohol.

This situation poses quite a challenge when it comes to treatment because there is a risk of treating one issue but not the other. Many sufferers are left wondering whether they should focus on their addiction or whether they should seek mental health counselling. In many cases, addicts do not even realize there is a psychological issue.

The best approach to this scenario is a comprehensive one. When seeking treatment, a holistic approach that involves counselling along with a substance abuse recovery program will uncover any hidden mental issues, as well as treat the addiction.

Common co-occurring mental disorders

Although any psychological issue can occur alongside addiction, there are some common mental illnesses associated with substance abuse. Some of the most common include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia


The interaction between addiction and mental illness

So, how do addiction and mental illness interact? Underlying mental illnesses often cause a person to abuse drugs or alcohol. For example, someone with bipolar disorder may be more inclined to engage in risky behaviour like drug abuse when he or she is having a manic episode. Then when a depressive episode hits, the bipolar person may once again turn to drugs or alcohol to dull any emotional pain. He or she may also abuse in an effort to re-experience the euphoria of the manic phase.

For others, the addiction starts first and then leads to mental illness over time. Consider someone who abuses alcohol. As the person’s tolerance increases, so does alcohol consumption. Eventually, the depressant effects of alcohol alter the addict’s brain chemistry, which may lead to mental illness—most likely depression.

Either way, as both the addiction and the mental illness progress, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Challenges in diagnosis and treatment

People with a dual diagnosis often go without proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, due to a number of challenges.

  • Confusion: Many addicts are confused about their situation and are unaware that they are faced with both conditions.
  • Stigmas: Individuals suffering from addiction, mental illness, or both, often face stigmas. Both substance abusers and the mentally ill are often viewed as selfish and lacking in morals and willpower. As a result, many fail to seek help.
  • Misdiagnosis: Since both substance abuse and mental illness symptoms are similar (and overlapping), misdiagnosis is relatively common. For example, someone coming off a cocaine binge may appear depressed, but many not actually be suffering from depression.

Although these challenges exist, they are not impossible to overcome. The first step is to realize there is a problem and seek help from a centre that focuses on comprehensive treatment and offers recovery programs emphasizing both counselling and addiction treatment. This will ensure that any dual issues will not only be uncovered, but also treated.

If you’d like to learn more about dual diagnosis, and live in or around Hamilton, St. Catharines, or Brantford, Ontario, you can make the first step by contacting Towards Recovery on 519-579-0589 to locate your nearest clinic and kick start your journey.

Who We Serve ?

  • Individuals using/abusing street narcotics (e.g. heroin).
  • Patients abusing prescription narcotics(i.e., Codeine, Talwin, Percocet/Percodan, Dilaudid, Morphine or Demerol, et cetera).
  • Individuals displaying any of the following behaviours: Compulsive drug use or drug seeking/craving.
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