Dual Diagnosis

November 12, 2012

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is a term referring to an individual who has been diagnosed with both a mental health disorder and an alcohol or drug addiction. It has been suggested by the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Association that at least half of the two million individuals in American, suffering from a major mental health disorder are abusing illicit drugs or alcohol. In these cases it is very hard for medical professionals to make an accurate assessment of the patients mental health as the effects of substance abuse can mimic, mask and aggravate mental illnesses. It is very common for drug and alcohol problems and mental health disorders to accompany each other with approximately half of all alcoholics also suffering with some kind of mental illness. In dual diagnosis cases, sometimes the substance abuse will mask a psychiatric disorder and sometimes a disorder such as depression will mask substance abuse, making it very difficult to distinguish the root of the problem.

Identify dual diagnosis

In dual diagnosis individuals, it is common for only one of the problems to stand out and be identified, making it hard to recognise dual diagnosis. It is often the case that someone suffering from a mental disorder to be in complete denial about a drink or drugs problem. Additionally, when substance abuse is apparent, it often disguises an underlying mental health condition. Making the diagnosis can be particularly difficult with teenagers. Bi-polar disorder is a mental health condition, which produces severe shifting moods of highs and lows. It can be hard to distinguish between this and the normal mood fluctuations of a teenager and when you throw alcohol or substance abuse into the mix the effects on mood patterns can become extreme.

Symptoms of dual diagnosis

It is not uncommon for patients to avoid one condition being recognised by placing focus on the other disorder. For example someone who wanted to keep their substance abuse problem hidden may admit to a psychiatric disorder just to take focus off other problems. Similarly some individuals are embarrassed or scared to admit they have mental health illness so admit to a drug or alcohol problem to shield the illness. Individuals with dual diagnosis are often confused, depressed and lack the information and knowledge they need to overcome their problems. It is normal to become a recluse and cut off from the world in an attempt to keep both the substance abuse and mental illness hidden.

It can be very hard for the family and friends of someone suffering from dual diagnosis, as there is currently not a lot of support offered by mental health services for either the patient or their support network. Violence often occurs in the form of domestic violence and suicide attempts. Most of the mentally ill people who find themselves in prison are drug abusers. Sexual abuse has also been reported amongst dual diagnosis individuals. If dual diagnosis is recognised then there is treatment and help available. In order to get this help, the problem needs to first be recognised either by the individual themselves or by those around them.


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