Managing mental health issues can be overwhelming, whether you are suffering from a mental illness yourself or you are supporting a loved one. When drug addiction comes into the equation, many people despair. Overcoming the combination of two significant obstacles may seem impossible. However, there is often more to the crisis than meets the eye.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

In many cases, mental illness and drug addiction are closely intertwined and not the separate issues that they might appear to be at first glance. Experienced mental health professionals can identify these situations, making what is referred to as a “dual diagnosis.” The importance of proper diagnosis cannot be overstated, as treatment plans for dual diagnosis patients are quite different from those designed for individual addiction or mental health issues. That’s good news for patients and their loved ones, because it means coordinated, comprehensive care for both substance abuse and mental illness.

How Are Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Linked?

Researchers first noticed a connection between substance abuse and mental illness when examining which people are responsible for purchasing and consuming various addictive products. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research collected specific data on usage rates of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine. The findings were astonishing. Two populations were responsible for most alcohol, cigarette, and cocaine consumption: the 24 percent of Americans diagnosed with a mental illness each year, and the 43 percent of Americans who had a diagnosable mental health issue at any point in their lives.

Among the first group, Americans suffering from mental illness right now, the numbers looked like this:

– 38 percent of all alcohol
– 44 percent of all cocaine
– 40 percent of all cigarettes

Among people who had ever experienced a mental health issue, the numbers looked like this:

– 69 percent of all alcohol
– 84 percent of all cocaine
– 68 percent of all cigarettes

Later, other drugs were studied to see if there were similar links, and researchers found connections to a wide variety of drugs, including heroin, prescription pain medication, and marijuana.

What Causes the Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness?

Scientists, treatment providers and physicians are still working on the specific causes of the relationship between substance abuse and mental illness, but a number of facts have already emerged. First, drug addicts can experience symptoms of mental health disorders as a direct result of substance abuse. For example, there is an increased risk of psychosis in some marijuana users.

Second, patients often use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for a wide range of mental health issues. There is excellent research showing that cigarettes alleviate some symptoms of schizophrenia, and alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroin are all used to tame anxiety and manage the effects of mood disorders.

Third, both substance abuse and mental illness can be caused by certain physical characteristics, which can lead to patients developing simultaneous substance abuse issues and mental illness. For example, differences in brain structure and certain genetic vulnerabilities have been associated with both conditions.

Finally, patients who have experienced a traumatic event, such as violence, abuse, military combat or natural disaster, are frequently at risk for substance abuse and mental health issues.

The Crosby Clinic is staffed with experts who specialize in dual diagnosis. They have the skills needed to identify and treat the underlying causes of addiction. If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse and/or mental health issues, call today to learn more about treatment options.

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