Alcoholism is a disorder that affects how people think, feel, and behave. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for someone addicted to alcohol to admit they have a problem because of the stigma that comes with the admission. This, unfortunately, leaves many people suffering from an alcohol use disorder to feel a lot of shame about their addiction, making them much less likely to seek treatment.
Dual diagnosis treatment programs are important for alcoholics because it gives people who struggle with both substance use disorders and other mental illnesses more options in terms of treatment. It’s difficult to treat alcoholism if other underlying mental health conditions aren’t treated, and it’s difficult to treat mental health disorders if there’s an active addiction taking place. Treating both together is one of the best ways to give someone suffering from alcoholism and mental health issues the best chance at a full recovery.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about dual diagnosis and why it’s essential for alcoholism.
What Is Dual Diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe a person who has both a mental illness and an addiction. Mental illnesses can be very serious, and they often make it difficult for people to function in everyday life. Examples of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Addictions are also serious, as they can cause people to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t. An addiction such as alcoholism includes physical acts—the act of taking the substance — and the mental processes that go into the addiction, such as the obsessions and cravings a person experiences.
When you have co-occurring disorders, you need treatment for both conditions. This can be tricky because it’s not always easy to treat two disorders at once. However, if you find experienced treatment facilities and providers, you should engage in the treatment you need.
Why Do Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Issues Occur Simultaneously?
It’s not entirely clear why mental disorders and substance abuse issues occur simultaneously, but there are several theories as to why this happens.
One theory is that people with mental disorders are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. This isn’t always intentional, as many people with mental health disorders don’t even know that they have an illness. They simply experience symptoms that make them uncomfortable, and they learn over time that drugs or alcohol help them to alleviate those feelings. This leads them to continue to use drugs and alcohol more often, sometimes leading to alcoholism or another addiction.
Another theory is that drug or alcohol use can cause or at least trigger mental disorders. A person can have a genetic predisposition to mental health disorders but not display any symptoms throughout their life. Sometimes, their excessive alcohol use or their use of other substances can trigger their genes to activate and cause them to start experiencing symptoms from their mental health disorder. This doesn’t necessarily mean that addiction caused the disorder, but it certainly played a role in its onset.
Finally, there is the social learning theory, which suggests that people learn how to behave from the people around them. This means that if someone in a person’s family has a mental disorder and an addiction, they’re more likely to develop one themselves.
Which Mental Health Issues Are Most Commonly Seen in People With Substance Abuse Issues?
Many different types of mental health disorders can occur alongside substance abuse issues. However, some mental health problems are more common than others. The most common mental illnesses seen in people with substance abuse issues are depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each of these disorders can be very serious, and they can make it difficult for people to function in everyday life. When an individual with these mental health issues drinks alcohol or abuses other substances, it can exacerbate the symptoms, making their mental illness significantly worse.
How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to treating two co-existing disorders. However, there are a few treatment options that often get used. Some common treatments for dual diagnosis include medication and therapy. Medication can treat the mental illness and sometimes the substance use disorder, and therapy, including behavioral therapies, can treat the addiction.
Addictions often occur because of a traumatic event or events that happened in a person’s life that causes them to turn to alcohol or drugs to alleviate the emotional pain the event caused. Therapy can help address the underlying feelings that led to the addiction in the first place, which can help a person overcome those feelings and overcome their addiction. This then makes it easier to treat the mental health disorder.
How Can Dual Diagnosis Help People Recover from Alcoholism?
A dual diagnosis gives people struggling with both alcoholism and a mental illness more options with treatment. This can be helpful because some treatments for just one disorder might not work as well if you have other co-occurring disorders. It’s important to recognize and consider all conditions that a person is dealing with to design the best treatment plan.
Someone suffering from PTSD likely needs treatment that looks a little different than someone dealing with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Different medications and types of therapy work for certain mental illnesses, and without acknowledging everything a person is going through, it’s tricky to determine what specific type of treatment remains best.
Certain Risk Factors Can Cause Both Alcoholism and Mental Health Issues
Certain risk factors can cause both alcoholism and mental health issues. Some of these risk factors include genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Genetics is one factor that plays a role in both disorders. If someone has a family history of mental illness or addiction, they’re more likely to develop one themselves.
The environment is also a factor, and it includes issues such as stress levels and exposure to drugs or alcohol. Many individuals who grow up in households where drug and alcohol use is prevalent and accepted often wind up drinking and taking other drugs simply because it’s what they know.
When life is stressful, they see the people they look up to turn to alcohol and drugs, so they often end up doing the same. Lifestyle choices can also play a role in the development of dual diagnosis. Problems such as a poor diet or lack of exercise can increase the risk of developing both conditions.
People With Alcohol Use Disorder Often Abuse Alcohol to Cope with Mental Health Issues
People with AUD often abuse alcohol to cope with mental health issues. For example, someone struggling with depression may drink alcohol to self-medicate. This can lead to a cycle of addiction and mental illness that becomes increasingly difficult to break free from.
This is why it’s so important to address both conditions simultaneously when treating dual diagnoses. Focusing on only one disorder might not be enough to help someone get and stay sober. Dual diagnosis treatment provides an opportunity for people to get the comprehensive care they need to recover from both alcoholism and any co-occurring mental health disorders. This type of treatment can be life-saving, and it gives people the best chance of leading a sober life.
Additionally, people with a dual diagnosis may need a longer treatment period to address both conditions at once, meaning they might need more inpatient rehab stays or longer outpatient visits with therapists and doctors throughout their recovery journey. This is why it’s often easier for people receiving this type of care to find the right balance between working and taking time off from work when necessary during rehabilitation.
The most effective way to treat alcoholism is to seek comprehensive care that addresses mental health issues, too (if applicable). This can be difficult without support from family members and friends who understand what you’re going through and medical professionals who will provide guidance every step of the way towards full recovery.
Continual Alcohol Abuse Can Make Existing Disorders Worse
It’s also important to realize that even if alcoholism isn’t causing a mental health disorder, continual alcohol abuse can make existing disorders worse. For example, someone with PTSD might drink to numb painful emotions and memories that are too difficult to cope with otherwise.
This could cause an individual’s symptoms to become even more severe over time if the drinking continues without them seeking help from mental health professionals who specialize in treating both conditions simultaneously.
People often recover quickly from addiction once they start receiving comprehensive treatment for their psychiatric condition(s) and alcoholism. Dual diagnosis treatment can be life-changing for people who suffer from addictions and mental illness.
Continuing Treatment after Rehab Can Be Beneficial for Long Term Recovery
Dual diagnosis treatment is not just a temporary solution to addiction and mental illness; it’s also part of the ongoing process that helps people maintain sobriety or recover from their condition(s) more completely over time. For example, someone with AUD might attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as well as individual therapy sessions regularly to continue receiving support throughout their journey.
This ensures that they don’t slip back into old habits such as drinking too much alcohol daily without first exploring new ways of coping with stress and other triggers.
Want to Learn More About Dual Diagnosis?
As you can see, understanding dual diagnosis is essential in dealing with alcoholism. Since both are inextricably linked, you’ll need to treat both issues if you want a chance at recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism and mental health issues, contact The Haven for help. We offer medical detoxification services and mental health care. We are here to answer any questions you have and get you on the path to treatment.