5 Steps to Deal with Dual Diagnosis

Drug addiction is bad enough on its own. However, for some unfortunate individuals, drug addiction is only half the problem. Imagine that in addition to substance abuse issues, your or someone you cared about was coping with an undiagnosed mental health issue such as depression or schizophrenia.

When someone has a pre-existing mental health condition and a drug abuse problem, this often leads medical professionals to make a “dual diagnosis.”

Dual Diagnosis makes it more difficult to overcome an addiction because the person struggles not just with drugs or alcohol but is dependent on them because of their mental illness. Here are five steps to cope with dual diagnosis.


1. Do Not Ignore Symptoms

It is important to be honest with your family doctor about any unusual symptoms you may be having. If necessary, consider making an appointment with a psychiatrist.

There exists a negative stigma against mental illness, and this leads some people to ignore or downplay symptoms rather than acknowledge that there is a problem.

Some people become more afraid of being judged than getting a proper diagnosis and mental health support and treatment.

Even worse, this can lead some to try and “medicate” themselves through substance abuse as a means of treating the problem.

2. Don’t Self-Medicate

Often individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with problems in their lives or undiagnosed mental health issues.

In addition, drug and alcohol abuse make it difficult to maintain any form of employment, contributing to a vicious cycle of unemployment and short-term employment.

For instance, a person may suffer from depression that is made worse by becoming unemployed. In order to cope with extended unemployment, that person may develop a drinking problem. The depression could have been made better by proper mental health treatment and medication.

Instead, continued drug abuse results in a need to carefully determine ways to both treat the addiction and withdrawal symptoms and the pre-existing mental health issue(s).

3. Acknowledging a Serious Drug Problem

If one has begun to self-medicate, rather than completely cure their existing issues as hoped, drug addiction can often make it worse. What many don’t realize is that substance abuse can actually speed up the development of serious psychological issues. A person in their early twenties may be suffering from negative mental health symptoms in the manner they would have in ten years, but due to extended drug abuse, the most negative aspects have already surfaced.

It’s important that such persons face up to the fact that their addiction is failing to treat their issues. The more time that is devoted to a negative addiction, the greater the negative impact on both body and mind.

4. The Dangers of Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a dual diagnosis is made, medical professionals must often proceed with caution. The withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol, can be fatal. In certain individuals, the pre-existing mental health issues can be made worse by the process of withdrawal.

Because of this, it’s important that a person not simply try and quit “cold turkey” on their own. It is often required that these type of situations be closely monitored by medical professionals. The person suffering from drug addiction may need to seek a form of inpatient care during early withdrawal or even throughout the entire withdrawal process.

5. Getting Proper Mental Health Treatment

It’s important that the individual be given a form of mental health treatment that does not conflict with or contribute to their drug addiction. It can be tricky to medicate such an individual, because often such persons may be prone to abuse the prescribed medication.

Overdosing on prescription medication can prove every bit as lethal as overdosing on certain illegal drugs.

It’s important that a proper treatment plan include medication that helps wean a person off of illicit drug dependency while taking care of the mental health issues that were likely what led to self-medication in the first place.

Dual diagnosis can be dangerous and very difficult to detect, but it’s important at various stages for the individual to get the help they need to improve their overall health. It’s important to recognize that the “high” of a drug does not actually treat the existing problem. If anything, extended drug abuse only serves to make it worse. A dual diagnosis requires careful treatment options and planning in order to ensure that the suffering individual gets the best quality care and is able to cope with both their mental health issues and drug addiction.

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