Researchers estimate that over 17 million adults have had a serious mental illness within the past 12 months. Of these 17 million, about 4 million adults present with a dually diagnosed substance use disorder. Presenting with a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is dual diagnosis.
Mental health disorders and substance use disorders can affect everyone from all walks of life. Consequently, being diagnosed with a dual diagnosis can also impact anyone. Using drugs or alcohol can exaggerate mental health problems. Incidentally, presenting with a mental health disorder can increase the risks of developing a substance use disorder.
Common examples of dual diagnosis can be as follows: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependency, Anxiety Disorder and Benzodiazepine abuse, Bipolar Disorder and cocaine or opiate dependency, or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and alcohol dependency.
Any person living with a mental issue is more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder if the primary mental health issue is not properly treated. Substance use can start as a way to cope with trauma, pain and mental health issues. The nature of substances is addicting. Substances affect your brain and provide euphoria and an increase of dopamines- the feel good chemical.
When a person is living with major depression, they may have a chemical imbalance in their brain which affects dopamine production. Naturally, the substances can become a way to medicate the symptoms of their depression. Of course, this can be counter-productive. Consider the qualities of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. If you have depression and are consuming a depressant in the form of alcohol, it can increase your mental health symptoms.
There are a few common mental health disorders that are seen in certain substance users. People living with schizophrenia have significantly higher rates of marijuana dependency. The cause of this is not fully understood. According to some people with schizophrenia, they state that the marijuana alleviates auditory and visual hallucinations.
Cocaine dependency is often seen in people living with anxiety disorders. Living with anxiety makes you feel powerless because you have little control over how and when panic occurs. Cocaine provides intense euphoria, feelings of invincibility and control. Long-term cocaine use can also create anxiety symptoms, so it may be difficult to understand if the substance or mental health issue presented first.
Opiates are widely used amongst people with PTSD and depression. Opiates, specifically heroin, provides an intense rush of euphoria. For someone in constant depression or living with the aftermath of trauma, this intense euphoria is welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, heroin and other opiates are depressants which can make the mental health symptoms more pronounced.
Alcohol is the most common substance to be used in people with depressive disorders and social anxiety. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and provides temporary euphoria. Like most substances, alcoholism can exacerbate mental health issues.
Research has shown that many dually diagnosed people are only receiving treatment for either substance use or mental health, but not both issues. If you suspect that you or your loved one is experiencing mental health issues and substance use concerns, please seek help. There is help available.
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