Coping with Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs) may be burdensome. If you have this problem, you know how tough it is to live a regular life. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 165 million Americans, or 60.2% of the population over 12, currently abuse drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 8 million people, or 17.5% of those with mental health difficulties, abuse drugs. This article will discuss dual diagnosis, signs, and how to manage both conditions.

Dual Diagnosis: What It Means to Have a Mental Illness and a Substance Use Disorder

Contrary to popular belief, the phrase "dual diagnosis" does not imply the presence of two distinct mental illnesses. When a person has a mental illness and a substance use problem, they have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. As a result, "dual diagnosis" is not a diagnosis in and of itself but rather a grouping of diagnoses used together.


There is a potential for mental health illnesses and drug abuse disorders to be linked, even if this is not always the case. Addiction is more common in those with mental illness, with drug misuse occurring two times higher. This is due to the need to self-medicate symptoms. Mental illness patients may not realize that their drug abuse is a condition.


The symptoms of mental illness might be exacerbated by alcohol and other substances. In addition, long-term drug abuse raises the likelihood of developing mental health conditions. Approximately 38% of all alcohol, 44% of all cocaine, and over half of all opioid prescriptions in the United States are used by people with mental illness.


The most common drugs used by people with mental illness are alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates, and hallucinogens. The more serious a person's mental disorder, the more likely they will turn to drugs or alcohol. There is often a connection between the two conditions, even if it is difficult to determine which came first.


How Do You Treat Dual Diagnosis?

Treating SUD and co-occurring mental disorders as a single entity is preferable. Anyone seeking therapy for SUD or other mental illnesses must visit a doctor. Because there are so many similar symptoms, the doctor should use thorough diagnostic methods to avoid misdiagnosis and give the proper treatment.


Treatment must also be personalized to an individual's exact illness and symptom combination, age, substance addiction, and mental instability. Please make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options and allow the treatment time to work.


Behavioral therapy may help those who use drugs and have mental health issues. Behavioral treatment may be prescribed alone or in combination with medication. Adults with SUDs and other mental illnesses may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Patients learn new ways to deal with stressful events by questioning initial ideas and adopting new habits.


Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) emphasizes awareness and acceptance of one's emotional state and the circumstances in which one finds oneself. Suicide attempts, thoughts, urges, self-harm, and drug addiction are all examples of self-destructive behaviors, which DBT aims to help manage powerful emotions and enhance relationships. 


What Are the Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Dual diagnosis is difficult to detect. It's not always easy to tell a mental illness from a drug or alcohol addiction. The signs and symptoms of addiction are influenced by both a person's mental health and the drugs they take. Depressive symptoms and marijuana usage are distinct from those of schizophrenia and alcoholism. Co-occurring disorders may create a variety of symptoms, some more obvious than others.


To help you get a sense of whether the potential is present for dual diagnosis, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you take drugs or drink to deal with terrible memories or sensations, reduce the strength of your feelings, confront terrifying events, or stay concentrated on a project?
  • Do you have a family member who has been ill with mental illness or used drugs?
  • Even when you're sober, do you suffer from symptoms of sadness, anxiety, or any other form of imbalance?


If you responded yes, you might have a drug use issue combined with a mental health condition. But only a mental health expert knows for sure. Also, you should evaluate if you are currently receiving treatment for addiction or mental illness. Maybe your mental health issues affect your alcohol or drug addiction therapy, or vice versa. Remember that good dual diagnosis therapy addresses both conditions simultaneously, not separately.


How to Cope with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

You can self-manage drug addiction and mental health issues or seek professional help. The first step is sobriety. In addition to ongoing mental health care, practical coping skills and healthier lifestyle choices are also needed for long-term recovery.


Loneliness, despair, and anxiety are just a few of the many feelings that lead individuals to seek solace in alcohol and other substances. Therapy and other skills may help you deal with stressful circumstances even if you feel that using drugs is your only option. People with multiple diagnoses should devise an action plan to prevent a relapse. 


Make the most of the time you spend with your family and friends. Recovery requires a strong emotional connection with people who care about you. Try to remain in contact with others. It's never too late to make new friends if you don't already have any.


Follow your doctor's advice on dealing with your addiction and mental health after you've finished treatment or have recovered from a substance use disorder. Sobriety may lead you to assume that you no longer require medication or treatment. However, this is not always the case. One of the most common reasons for relapse in people with co-occurring disorders is discontinuing treatment or medication. Always speak with your doctor before making any changes to your prescription or treatment regimen.


Abstinence from drugs or alcohol, in the long run, necessitates a whole different way of living. But there are so many ways to have a good time. Look for enjoyable activities, such as charity work or even chores. When you're doing something you like, you'll feel better about yourself and be less likely to turn to drugs.

Avoid people, places, and activities that make you want drugs or alcohol. Changes in your social life could mean finding new ways to connect with your friends and acquaintances or breaking up with old friends and making new ones.


Contact a professional for proper diagnosis of mental health conditions and SUDs. Addiction treatment centers like Wish Recovery can help you with integrated therapy options to address your needs. Could you speak to one of our specialists today?

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