The dangers of leaving co-occurring disorders unchecked
Dual Diagnosis may as well be written on a billboard. In fact, it often is. Addiction recovery can be one of the hardest things to accomplish. Add to that mix a co-occurring mental illness, and you have the recipe for one of the hardest conditions to recover from. Staying clean and sober is one thing while all aspects of addiction are being cared for, however, there are serious dangers when co-occurring disorders are left unchecked.
Although dual-diagnosis treatment is ideal for the majority of people attending drug rehabilitation, mental illness is sadly, sometimes overlooked. A massive red flag must be raised immediately when this happens, as it is well documented that a mental illness left untreated in and after rehab is a sure sign that a person may suffer from relapse.
What’s a co-occurring disorder?
Good question. A co-occurring disorder is essentially the presence of a mental health condition and a substance use disorder at the same time. Here’s an interesting fact; Up to one-third of all people who suffer from depression ALSO suffer from addiction. On top of that startling fact, between 48% and 60% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder have a substance use disorder. In addition, the development of a substance use disorder often perpetuates mental illness so without Dual Diagnosis it can be difficult to determine which condition came first.
In situations where mental illness showed up first, the majority of people begin self-medicating to cope with stress, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of mental illness. On the flip side, those who develop a substance use disorder first experience major chemical changes in the brain which often lead to the development of a co-occurring mental health condition. Dual Diagnosis is a tricky situation whichever way you look at it, but you MUST look at it!
Patients who struggle with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are more prone to experiencing relapse because they face the additional impairments of their life skills and decision-making processes. The stigma that so frequently surrounds both mental illness and addiction does not help as it causes many sufferers to turn inwards and forgo the opportunity to reach out for the help they so desperately need.
How do co-occurring disorders go overlooked?
Accurately diagnosing co-occurring disorders isn’t an exact and easy to do process. It can be quite difficult as many symptoms of mental illness are similar to those of substance use disorders. You can see how tricky that makes the Dual Diagnosis process. Symptoms of substance abuse will often mask, mimic and aggravate the symptoms of mental illness.
A patient suffering from depression could well show symptoms such as weight loss, sleep disturbances and poor concentration. Those symptoms can also be present in those who are experiencing an addiction. And so the difficulties ensue. In contrast, those who suffer from bipolar disorder may experience mood swings, impulsivity and irritability which are all common symptoms seen in a person with a substance use disorder. Did you know that the diagnosis of depression is missed almost half of the time in primary care settings and around 40% of the time if those suffering from bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed? Although the Dual Diagnosis stats and figures are shocking, the quest to maximize the potential to maintain long term sobriety is only really realistic if dual diagnosis treatment is prescribed and initiated, as it is by far the best course of action for those suffering from addiction.
What happens when dual diagnosis is left untreated?
As hard as life is already for some, living with co-occurring disorders can make everyday life even more challenging. Mental illness and substance abuse perpetuate each other therefore symptoms can become worse if they are left untreated. When a dual diagnosis patient is not diagnosed and treated for their mental illness they are more likely to relapse and begin self-medicating. A slippery slope indeed! Failing to treat co-occurring disorders can lead individuals into a horrific and toxic cycle of attempts to cope with symptoms of mental illness, relapse and a rapid decline in emotional and mental health. Untreated mental illness can also result in a wide variety of additional risks. If a mental illness is left untreated it can lead to more severe episodes and extreme symptoms arising. Bottom line; the earlier a mental health condition is diagnosed and treated, the better outcome a person will most likely have.
One of the obvious dangers of mental illness and substance abuse is the effect it can have on a patient’s health. They wreak havoc on the body’s internal organs and seriously impact one’s overall well-being in negative ways. Those dealing with depression are at a greater risk of hormone abnormalities, metabolic changes, heart disease and other conditions. A person suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness is more likely to fall victim to suicide, homelessness, criminal activity and suffer unemployment compared to those who are not dealing with the illness. It cannot be stressed enough; identifying and treating co-occurring disorders through dual diagnosis therapy is massively important if one’s goal is to maintain sobriety.
What’s the real purpose of dual diagnosis treatment?
Simply put, dual diagnosis treatment is designed to treat both mental illness and substance abuse simultaneously. It does this by fostering coping mechanisms to deal with everyday life. Those mechanisms are healthy in origin and often work hand in hand with carefully selected prescription medications to help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. This is done to assist the patient as they get used to their new sober lifestyle. Aside from medications and coping skills, different forms of counseling are added into the dual diagnosis therapy programme, again specifically selected by professionals to aid the patient along their journey to a new, healthier, happier and sober life.
For more information on dealing with any addiction and getting yourself help to start a new life, call Houghton House now:
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