addiction and mental illness

A Simple Dual Diagnosis Definition: Understanding Addiction and Mental Illness

Those people who have been told they have a dual diagnosis can feel overwhelmed. They may not even be sure as to what it all means. Lack of information can easily lead to fear as there are many misunderstandings about addiction and mental illness. Providing a simple dual diagnosis definition and a basic introduction to the condition can help ease concerns.

Dual Diagnosis Definition

The best way to describe a dual diagnosis would be to say that it refers to an individual who has an addiction combined with another mental health problem. There are many types of mental illness that can be found in combination with alcohol and drug abuse but the most common are:

  • depression
  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • anxiety disorder
  • personality disorder

Why do People Develop a Dual Diagnosis?

There are many individuals who have a mental health problem before they begin abusing alcohol or drugs. In many instances they will have turned to addiction as a way to manage their symptoms – this is often referred to as self-medicating. Some of these people may not have even realized that they had mental illness; they just knew that they felt better when they used alcohol or drugs. In the short-term substance abuse can bring some relief, but addiction and mental illness are a deadly combination.

Other individuals develop a dual diagnosis as a result of their substance abuse. The effect of addiction on an individual’s physical health is clear to see, but it also has a huge impact on their mental health. Long-term alcohol or drug abuse can easily lead into all types of mental health problems. The symptoms of these conditions are often missed by medical professionals because they are masked by the addiction.

Management of Dual Diagnosis

In most instances the dual diagnosis can be managed, although it will sometimes be necessary to tackle both problems simultaneously. The priority usually is to get the person through addiction withdrawals, but it is generally recognized that failure to promptly treat the other mental health problem can increase the risk of relapse. There are now treatment facilities available in most big cities that focus specifically on helping people with a dual diagnosis.

A vital component of any treatment program will be the willingness to change; in fact there is believed to be little hope of recovery without this willingness. It is important for any person with a dual diagnosis to have the correct information; understanding the dual diagnosis definition is part of this.