Dual Diagnosis and Alcoholism

The Effects of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

The term ‘dual diagnosis’ first came into use in the 1980s. It was coined to describe people who were diagnosed with psychotic illnesses while, at the same time, misusing drugs or alcohol. The term has a much broader meaning today. Where alcohol addiction is concerned, a person can be given a dual diagnosis if the alcohol condition is observed in tandem with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness.

You may be a candidate for dual diagnosis if you are simultaneously having trouble with alcohol and a mental disorder. Neither problem has to be terribly severe to qualify as a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is not limited to mental disorders and alcohol. They can involve heroin, cocaine, or any other addictive drug.

Treating a dual diagnosis situation is never easy. Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment either. Doctors and therapists must custom-tailor treatments to individual patients based on their own diagnoses and the severity of each condition being treated. They must also consider how treatment for the mental disorder might possibly affect the addiction.

Assuming you are suffering from a combination of alcohol abuse and depression, any treatment you might receive for that depression would have to account for your alcohol abuse. For example, some medications used to treat depression can make overcoming alcohol addiction more difficult. This is just one example of the effects of dual diagnosis treatment on alcohol abuse.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders

The key to successful alcohol treatment in a dual diagnosis situation lies in understanding alcohol use disorders at their very core. Doctors and therapists with a thorough understanding of how alcohol affects the brain are better equipped to create effective treatment plans. They are better equipped to work with patients to help them understand just what is going on inside them.

As a person in recovery, your understanding of alcohol use disorders should grow as you progress through your treatment. Your doctors and nurses will work with you to help you understand the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of alcohol abuse. They will help you understand how you got to where you are and how you can get to a place of full recovery.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health Problems

With a thorough understanding of alcohol use disorders, doctors and therapists can devise treatment plans capable of addressing the many facets of dual diagnosis. They can combine treatment for alcohol abuse and mental health problems in a comprehensive treatment plan with long-term alcohol recovery and mental illness management at the core.

If this sounds complicated, that is because it is. It takes a special body of knowledge to safely and effectively address dual diagnosis problems. A big part of what we do is helping clients locate the right kinds of treatment for them.

Causes of Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Unknown causes are part of what makes dual diagnosis treatment so complicated. We cannot say for certain that alcohol abuse always leads to depression, or vice-versa. So there is no way to definitively say that one condition led to the other. That said, we do know that there are certain causes linked to mental illness and alcoholism as separate entities. Clinicians need to ask a number of different questions to try to sort out these root causes so as to determine how the conditions are related.

This requires looking at the history of both conditions. A doctor might ask you how long you suffered from depression and alcohol abuse. He or she might want to know if you recognize symptoms of one before the other. He or she would certainly want to know about your family history, your current living conditions, and so forth.

Common Dual Diagnosis with Alcohol Use Disorder 

If you believe you are suffering from a dual diagnosis situation, know that you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), dual diagnosis scenarios involving alcohol are more common than most people realize. They estimate that between 30% and 50% of those with mental health problems also suffer from drug or alcohol abuse. Among the two most common dual diagnosis scenarios involving alcohol abuse correlate with either depression or anxiety. It is not clear why these two particular mental disorders are so prevalent in dual diagnosis situations, but they are.

Signs and Symptoms of Common Co-Occurring Disorders in Alcohol Abuse

The signs and symptoms associated with dual diagnosis vary from case to case. They are heavily dependent on the combination of mental disorder and substance being used. For example, the symptoms exhibited by someone dealing with depression and alcohol abuse will be far different from symptoms associated with cannabis and schizophrenia. In terms of co-occurring disorders involving alcohol abuse, doctors and counsellors may look more at social cues than actual physical symptoms. Below is a list of common co-occurring disorders along with some of the signs doctors and therapists might look for.

Depression and Alcohol Use Disorders

If you are the kind of person who drinks to drown your sorrows, you may be exhibiting signs of co-occurring depression and alcohol abuse. You might be a dual diagnosis candidate if your feelings of depression drive you to drink.

Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders

A tell-tale sign of combined anxiety disorder and alcohol use is the belief that alcohol reduces your anxiety when, in fact, it actually makes it worse. This co-occurring condition creates a never-ending cycle in which you might drink to ease your anxiety only to find that it makes you more anxious after the alcohol wears off. You are then led to drink more – and the cycle continues.

Bipolar and Alcohol Use Disorders

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depression. It is characterized by extreme mood swings with temporary periods of stability in between. When it co-occurs with alcohol abuse, that co-occurrence produces more pronounced emotions at either end. People suffering from both bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse also exhibit a greater tendency toward violent behavior and suicide.

Obsessive-Compulsive and Alcohol Use Disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of anxiety that results in repetitive, obsessive behaviors. When this disorder is combined with alcohol abuse, the excessive behavior can be much more pronounced. Furthermore, sufferers may turn to alcohol if they believe they cannot adequately deal with their compulsive behaviors.

Borderline Personality and Alcohol Use Disorders

A person suffering from borderline personality disorder suffers from overwhelming fear and emotional pain. He or she may mask that fear and pain with a personality that appears to be manipulative and overly dramatic. When this condition occurs with alcohol abuse, some of the more severe symptoms of the disorder can become quite serious. Sufferers are more likely to be violent, severely depressed, and dependent on alcohol to cope.

Antisocial Personality and Alcohol Use Disorders

An antisocial personality disorder is characterized by reckless living, risk-taking, and manipulation of other people. People with the disorder tend to pay little regard to rules or social norms. And because alcohol consumption can temporarily produce many of the same symptoms, separating the two can be difficult.

Suicidal Thoughts and Alcohol Abuse

Although having suicidal thoughts is not necessarily a mental illness in and of itself, such thoughts on a regular basis are associated with other mental illnesses. Co-occurring suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse may be a sign of underlying depression or anxiety. At any rate, the person suffering from a co-occurrence is likely to exhibit deeper and longer periods of depression, low self-esteem, social isolation, and a reliance on alcohol to drown sorrows.

Reasons Why Dual Diagnosis Acts as a Barrier to Recovery

Dual diagnosis scenarios are challenging because the nature of dual diagnosis itself can be a barrier to recovery. There are several things to consider here, beginning with the reality that it can be difficult to decide if the co-occurring disorders are actually related. They may be, but then again, they may not be.

Another barrier to recovery is your response to treatment. For example, you may respond very well to medications prescribed to control your alcohol cravings. Those same medications may make your feelings of depression worse. The fact is that competing treatments sometimes create more problems than they solve.

The third barrier to recovery is incorrectly diagnosing the mental disorder in a co-occurring scenario. For example, you might be misdiagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder when it is really the alcohol abuse that is causing you to exhibit the symptoms. What you may really be suffering from is depression.

Challenges in Treating Dual Diagnosis Patients

The challenges of treating a dual diagnosis problem do not end with the potential for misdiagnosis and competing treatments. There are other challenges as well. At the top of the list is choosing the best treatment for the mental disorder. For example, there are multiple ways to treat depression. How is it best treated in any individual case? That’s up to doctors to determine.

Another challenge is found in how dual diagnosis patients interact with one another. In a traditional rehab setting, therapists rely on patient interactions as a tool for moving treatment forward. They do the same thing in dual diagnosis situations, with the understanding that sometimes those interactions can be harmful.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to dual diagnosis treatment is the fact that there are no standards. Dual diagnosis situations are so unique that it is impossible to devise even a basic treatment plan that doctors and therapists can work with. Every treatment plan has to be designed for the patient from the ground up.

Dealing with Alcohol Addiction and Co-Occurring Mental Health Problems

Dealing with co-occurring conditions is certainly not easy. We understand that you might feel overwhelmed by both alcohol abuse and the mental disorder you are suffering from. We realize that you might feel like you are in a position of no hope.

Your long-term health, both mentally and physically, depends on you getting professional help as soon as possible. Not only will expert treatment help you deal with alcohol addiction and your co-occurring mental health issue, but it can also help you overcome the alcohol problem entirely.