How a Dual Diagnosis Is Made

For many individuals who suffer from addiction, the predominant question they ask themselves is: “Why?” The same may be true for individuals who have a family member who has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Why have they developed addiction when so many other individuals who experiment with drugs and alcohol do not?  Did something happen in their early life that caused this difference?  Was there anything that could have been done to change the outcome?  The National Institute on Drug Abuse has been researching the reasons behind addiction for many years. While the exact reason why some individuals become addicted to drugs and others do not is unknown, researchers have discovered several risk factors that are involved.

One of the most profound reasons that an individual may become addicted to drugs or alcohol when another individual does not encounter the same problem is genetics. The experts estimate that the influence of genetics is responsible for roughly 40 to 60 percent of one’s tendency toward drug addiction.

Other factors that can influence whether addiction is more likely include:

  • The environment in which one lives
  • The age at which an individual begins using drugs
  • Availability of drugs
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Poverty
  • The presence of another mental disorder

When a person suffers from a mental disorder, regardless of whether it has been officially diagnosed, they are twice as likely to suffer from addiction as someone who does not have a mental health condition. The reasons why this occurs so frequently are not known. Also, it is important to remember that having a mental condition does not mean that an individual will, for certain, become addicted to, or even use, drugs. However, if they do abuse drugs, they are more likely to fall past casual experimentation and land in the center of an addiction disease.

Individuals Who Suffer From a Dual Diagnosis May Be Self-Medicating

dual diagnosisThe fundamental question of why anyone would choose to use drugs is a difficult one. There are many general ideas put forth by leading experts, however. For instance, an individual might choose to use drugs simply to feel good. Drugs have a euphoric effect that can make some individuals feel powerful or at ease, regardless of their immediate surroundings and circumstances. Other individuals may choose to use drugs to fit in – to be part of the “in” crowd. Finally, some individuals use drugs to feel better than they do under normal circumstances. These individuals may suffer from anxiety, nervousness, depression, or more serious conditions, such as personality disorders or schizophrenia.

Suppose an individual suffers from a condition which makes it nearly impossible for them to concentrate or focus. One such condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is generally treated through the use of stimulants. If this person discovers through casual drug use that stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine, increase their ability to concentrate, focus, or otherwise get things done, they may be more likely to use the drugs again in the future.

self-medicatingThe dangers associated with self-medicating center primarily around dosages. An individual who is using a stimulant drug they have purchased illegally, including prescription medications, will not have the knowledge necessary to administer the correct dose for their condition, body weight and height, or even to know whether the drug is the preferred medication for their condition. When this happens, the individual may certainly feel better for a while, but tolerance will eventually take hold.

Tolerance occurs when the body and the brain get used to the effects of certain drugs. In order to achieve the same effects, whether they are simply looking to stabilize their condition or they are seeking euphoric effects, they must ingest higher doses of the drug. If they initially self-medicated with a dose that was too high, increasing the dose can be even more dangerous. Eventually, they risk developing the disease of addiction more quickly due to the higher doses and frequency of use. When drug addiction develops alongside another mental disorder, the individual then suffers from a Dual Diagnosis, or a comorbid condition.

Did you know that excessive and continued use of cocaine can lead to psychosis?  According to the experts, when an individual exposes their brain to cocaine for long periods of time, the brain becomes unable to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the feelings of reward we experience in our day-to-day lives. For example, without the correct levels of dopamine, we might find very little joy in seeing an old friend for the first time in years, or find pleasure in simple activities such as receiving flowers or a gift from a loved one. Individuals who have taken cocaine repeatedly also report that they are anxious, paranoid and experience panic attacks.

Some of these symptoms may be the result of a mental illness that developed due to the drug use itself, rather than the other way around.

How a Dual Diagnosis Is Made

woman stressedThroughout the course of their research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has developed certain principles reflecting effective treatment practices for drug addiction. One of these principles is the concept that, in order for an individual to be treated effectively, they should receive treatment for all conditions from which they may suffer. This means that it is of paramount importance that any underlying or co-existing conditions are diagnosed at the beginning of the treatment program.

When someone seeks treatment for an addiction, the treatment center should perform an assessment as quickly as possible. During the course of the assessment, the clinicians will be looking for symptoms of a variety of conditions to determine whether or not a Dual Diagnosis exists. The American Psychiatric Association publishes a book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, periodically to establish a set of guidelines for the diagnosis of these conditions. The process might include verbal discussions and the completion of various written tests, as well as physical examination.

Some of the conditions that these professionals might be looking for include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Depression, including major depression or bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia

man by the waterAddressing Dual Diagnosis Is Imperative to Avoiding Relapse

For some, the concept of treating two conditions at once might seem a little overwhelming. Why not simply treat the addiction and then worry about any co-occurring disorders later?  Unfortunately, addiction is a chronic disease that is characterized by relapse. It is not unusual for an individual who has successfully completed a rehabilitation program to experienced stress or other issues that prompt them to use drugs again. This is not a sign that treatment has failed, rather that treatment should be adjusted to meet the new demands. Because relapse can occur in the best of circumstances, it is important to mitigate those circumstances whenever possible.

If an individual was abusing drugs as a form of self-medication, and the condition they were trying to treat is not addressed, they will be in the same situation emotionally and psychologically in which they began. On the other hand, if an individual developed a mental illness because of their continued drug abuse, they may seek out different drugs as a way to overcome the new condition. Either way, it is important to identify and treat the co-morbid condition to give the individual a firm foundation from which to grow.

Getting Help for Addiction and Dual Diagnosis Disorders

While there is no cure for addiction and many of the most common Dual Diagnosis disorders are associated with addiction, treatment is available in a variety of formats. An individual might respond well to outpatient treatment, while another might be better suited for an inpatient treatment program. Depending upon the condition as well as the drug addiction, a variety of treatment options in the form of individual therapy, group therapy or family therapy is available.

Because every person who suffers from addiction brings their own unique perspective, family or personal medical history, and attitude, each individual’s treatment program should be formulated in manner designed specifically for them. If you are suffering from depression and addiction to cocaine, your treatment experience will be different than someone who suffers from anxiety and whose drug of choice is marijuana or heroin.

To find out more about how The Oaks at La Paloma can help you or a member of your family overcome addiction and learn to lead a life that is free from drug abuse, while addressing a Dual Diagnosis, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our staff of trained professionals has the experience needed to identify and treat not only your addiction issues, but also the mental health issues that exacerbate it.