Dual Diagnosis

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Dual Diagnosis

When two disorders occur at the same time, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurrence. In many cases, this is when a mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD) occur at the same time, which means that sometimes, one could occur before the other. In other cases, one disorder could exacerbate the symptoms of the other and this could cause additional problems if treatment isn’t sought. It becomes tricky to safely manage both at the same time, which is why having a healthcare team could be the safest option for moving forward in recovery. Despite common belief, it’s not all that uncommon for a person to experience both a mental disorder, such as depression, and an addiction, such as alcoholism, at the same time. In fact, previous research tells us that people with mood and anxiety disorders are twice as likely to experience a simultaneous SUD.

When we’re caught in the whirlwind of life and symptoms of a mental illness arise, most people try to do everything they can to make the symptoms go away. Just like most people don’t enjoy rushing to the doctor, however, many people try to “treat” their mental illness with something else – often substances – to help them either suppress the symptoms or distract them so that they don’t continue to feel uncomfortable from what they’re experiencing. For example, a person who has social anxiety may begin feeling very nervous about meeting up with friends; by doing cocaine, they may feel that pressure to “fit in” or may feel better able to push past the anxiety and have a good time – even if the risk of addiction is there.

Self-Medicating Contributes to Co-Occurrence

Previous studies have found that many people choose alcohol or marijuana to self-medicate because they feel those are the least addictive substances to use; furthermore, they tend to feel as though they have more control over their substance use, and they tend to believe that the effects of these substances are more favorable anyways. The problem with this, however, is that the brain is wired to want those pleasurable feelings. We have a chemical in our brain – dopamine – and whenever something releases this chemical, such as eating a food that we like, having an intimate moment with a partner, using a drug, etc., that memory gets stored as a pleasant one. It seems harmless at the time, but our brain remembers that moment and may recall it again – and, if that experience was really good, it’s likely that cravings will begin and that is when the cycle of dependency starts.

The Road to Recovery

Recovery is an uphill battle but it’s filled with strength and courage. There’s no one “right way” to recover, so you truly have to find what works best for you. For many people, however, recovery should include a schedule that’s based on correcting habits. Depression and substance dependence each tend to have their own competing schedules, but you are not your disorders – and you need to live your life in a way that counteracts the “needs” of the disorders and instead places your health and wellbeing as a top priority.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can greatly help with both disorders. This type of therapy approach helps us to identify old, negative thought patterns, while giving us insight into how much importance we’re placing on those thoughts, and if we really need to be giving them much importance considering the effect it’s having on our happiness and health. With CBT, we’re given the tools to identify which thoughts we’d like to place emphasis on – and from there, we can figure out which thoughts are important.

Mood & Food

Depression really manifests itself through low energy, irritability, sadness and hopelessness, isolation, and more. On top of that, substance abuse can cause us to eat less (or eat more unhealthy foods), sleep less, exercise less, and damage some of the vital organs that are used to absorb what nutrients we do obtain from our daily diet. When depression is present, we may find that other areas of our lives – even simple ones like keeping up with hygiene – suddenly become incredibly difficult. Combine these effects with detoxification/addiction recovery, and you may experience an aftermath that’s pretty uncomfortable – while in recovery, nutrition management and proper exercise can really help counteract some of these negative effects. 

If you’re looking to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet, you could try grains, fruits, vegetables, tofu, kale, other foods rich in calcium, meat, fish, and good fatty oils such as canola, olive oil, and flaxseed.

Mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur and must be treated simultaneously for the best chance of long-term success in addiction recovery. The Kimberly Center understands that many people who are in recovery have experienced trauma during their lifetime. We want to help you heal not only from addiction, but also from trauma. We offer many different therapy modalities, including EMDR, to help you process trauma during your treatment. Call us today at 855-4-KCENTER (855-452-3683) to learn how we can help you on the road to a full recovery – mind, body, and spirit.

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