Addiction to a substance is a disease that involves both mind and body. A mental illness occurs only in the mind but can affect the body as well. Even at first glance one can see the relationship between the two. It is similar to the square and the rectangle. All addictions are illnesses but not all illnesses are addictions. Evidence shows though that having a mental illness increases the likelihood of being addicted to a substance, and vice versa known as Dual Diagnosis.
In fact, those who have ever had a mental illness in their lives consume nearly 70% of all the alcohol bought, 84% of all cocaine, and 68% of all cigarettes. This is according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, an organization that tracks sales of all types. At any point, less than 25% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness. While that still is a lot of people, it sheds light on just how many addictive substances those with mental illnesses consume.
Why the co-occurrence?
This question is much like the chicken and the egg. Does mental illness cause addiction or does addiction cause mental illness? Having both an addiction and a mental illness is known as having a dual diagnosis. Like many diagnoses, there is a wide range of intensity. Someone who develops depression as a result of being an alcoholic has a dual diagnosis, and so does someone who has schizophrenia and uses heroin as a self-medication. Obviously the two treatment plans would differ greatly, but nevertheless each person suffers from dual diagnosis.
Approximately 40% of those with a mental disorder also abuse substances. Mental disorders can arise from prolonged substance abuse, but self-medicating with drugs or alcohol in order to combat a mental illness happens as well.
One is a catalyst for the other.
According to Foundations Recovery Network, when dealing with dual diagnoses, “symptoms of one disorder trigger the other.” Though it may come off as harsh, they offer some examples of how addictions and mental illnesses can co-occur and catalyze each other. One example is how drug abuse increases the risk of being the victim of a violent crime, which itself can lead to PTSD or depression. Another example is how unprotected sex and/or sharing needles during drug use can lead to HIV or Hepatitis C, which in turn can (and probably will) cause severe depression and grief. Depression actually is very common in substance abusers, as many drugs actually cause it, i.e. alcohol, crystal meth and ecstasy.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse puts it well: “Both drug use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors such as underlying brain deficits, genetic vulnerabilities, and/or early exposure to stress or trauma.”
Treating a Dual Diagnosis
Because both addiction and mental illness are serious conditions, having a dual diagnosis requires careful attention. First, a detoxification is recommended, especially one that is inpatient. Due to the instability of dual diagnoses, a constantly monitored environment is probably best. Next, rehabilitation should occur. This would be therapy, group and solo discussion, exercise, diet… anything that assists in the process of cleaning up. After that would come medication, which must be carefully administered due to the nature of the issue.
Finally, the maintenance of sobriety and clean mental status is handled with self-help and support groups, along with strong willpower and determination. For detailed and in-depth information on dual diagnoses, including finding specific self-help and support groups, click here and visit Double Trouble in Recovery.