Dual Diagnosis

Substance Abuse & Mental Illness

Wife reaching out to husbandMental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. They can occur at the same time or one may develop before the other. Unfortunately, it makes sense. If you have depression, anxiety or another mental disorder, you may turn to alcohol — or another substance — to ease the pain.

Using alcohol and drugs for an extended period of time can also contribute to the development of a mental illness. That’s why having a substance abuse assessment is vital when it comes to treating mental disorders. Identifying both conditions helps ensure appropriate treatment.

An Increased Risk

Older man looking out the windwoPeople with serious mental illness are four to five times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA).

Research suggests that about half of the adults who have a diagnosable mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder during their lifetime. A National Association of Mental Health study shows the increased risk for substance abuse for these disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder, 15.5% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Manic episode, 14.5% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Schizophrenia, 10.1% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Panic disorder, 4.3% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Major depressive episode, 4.1% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, 3.4% increased risk of substance abuse
  • Phobias, 2.4% increased risk of substance abuse

Older adults with depression are three to four times more likely to have alcohol problems than those who are not depressed. Alcohol is the most common drug used among people with serious mental illness, but prescription and streets can also be abused.

Older adults tend to abuse prescription drugs. Younger adults are more likely to abuse street drugs.

Why Is It So Common?

Man giving a woman a piggyback rideWhen someone suffers from a mental illness, it is not uncommon for that person to self-medicate to ease the symptoms. As use becomes more frequent, the person can become dependent on the substance.

Conversely, substance abuse can trigger symptoms of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Or suicidal thoughts

In addition, if substance abuse begins in adolescence and continues into adulthood, a person may develop emotional difficulties or psychiatric disorders, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Diagnosing a co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder can be challenging. Addiction can lead to denial, making it difficult to get an accurate self-report of alcohol or drug use. Plus, some signs of addiction can mimic those of certain mental illnesses and vice-versa.

The best way to determine if someone is suffering from both disorders is to find out as much as possible about the person, and to conduct a thorough mental and physical health assessment that includes a substance abuse screening.

Treating the Conditions

happy man on a ranchSubstance abuse and mental health conditions can be treated at the same time. But the predominant issue should be addressed first.

At Enloe Behavioral Health, the mental illness is considered the primary diagnosis and the substance use condition is the secondary condition. 

If you suffer from addiction, the first step is detox at Enloe Behavioral Health. This is important because it can be hard to assess a mental illness if a person is using or dependent on a substance.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation can occur on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Discharge planning between you and your team can help find the best option for continuing treatment. After detox, regular counseling and attending a recovery support group will help you feel better. Attention to exercise, nutrition, housing and other lifestyle issues will also enhance recovery.

Contact Us

Enloe Behavioral Health Program

530-332-5250 | Toll-free: 800-560-5900

24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Visiting Hours: 6 to 7:15 p.m. | All visitors must have a confidentiality code from a patient prior to visiting.

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