Addiction and Dual Diagnosis

Addiction and Dual Diagnosis

Are you worried that you or someone close to you may have a mental health illness and an addiction? Help is at hand. Here we tell you a little about dual diagnosis, what to look out for and how we can get you or a loved one the best possible treatment.

What is dual diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when a person is considered to be suffering from a mental health illness and an addiction. Dual diagnosis can cover what is considered minor mental health problems such as depression and addiction, or be more specific towards major mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia and addiction.

Signs, symptoms and diagnosis

Making a dual diagnosis in substance abusers is difficult as drug abuse itself often induces psychiatric symptoms. It is therefore necessary to differentiate between substance-induced and pre-existing mental illness. Signs and symptoms of a dual diagnosis may include depression, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

How to tell the difference between mental illness and substance-induced behaviours

Drug and alcohol addiction can induce symptoms that resemble mental illness, and so it is difficult to differentiate between substance-induced symptoms and pre-existing mental health illness. Substance-induced symptoms can be evident during withdrawal and while the individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most often, if a person has sustained abstinence from the addictive substance their psychiatric symptoms will disappear. However, there is evidence to suggest that symptoms can persist long after detoxification. These can include depression after amphetamine or cocaine abuse, delusional and paranoid behaviour after abuse of hallucinogens, and panic attacks after cannabis use. Alcohol addiction can cause depression and anxiety but this usually fades away after detox. Abuse of benzodiazepines can cause symptoms that, even after withdrawal, may be problematic for many months or, in extreme cases, years.

Treatment for dual diagnosis

Treatment should be offered in a setting that recognises that intervention needs to be centred on treating both disorders together. It is important to seek advice and find a treatment centre that is able to manage the needs and care of a person with a dual diagnosis. Staff will need to be experienced, and there should be a collaborative decision-making process between the client and the treatment team. It is likely that the treatment programme will need to be longer and approached more systematically. Medication will need to be prescribed to address the symptoms of mental illness. This allows the client to stabilise and prepare themselves psychologically for the treatment to address their addiction. Life-long maintenance drugs to prevent addiction relapse may also be considered, reducing the risk of further mental health symptoms and thus negative impact on daily living.

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