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5 Surprising Facts About Dual Diagnosis

dual diagnosis information

Dual diagnosis is a clinical condition that describes co-occurring mental health disorders suffered by an individual. When a patient presents symptoms of dual diagnosis, it means they are battling one or more mental health disorders – such as depression or anxiety – simultaneously or sequentially, often alongside a substance use disorder. Although dual diagnosis may be a relatively new concept to you, it is actually very common. Millions of Americans struggle with a dual diagnosis every day.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, or symptoms of dual diagnosis are suspected, it can feel like a complete crisis. You may be seeking more information about this condition, and what it could mean for your family. You are not alone. To help you gain a better understanding of dual diagnosis, we’ve compiled all the facts below.

  1. Dual diagnosis is very common.

While not often talked about, dual diagnosis is very common. In the United States today, it’s estimated that 17 million people over age 18 – 6.7 percent of the adult population – are struggling with a mental illness and a substance use disorder. About 5.7 million of these individuals are facing what is considered a serious mental illness, meaning the disorder has significantly interfered with their ability to live. 

The disorders and combinations of disorders that these individuals face are all unique. Some people struggle with major depressive disorder as well as alcoholism. Some struggle with marijuana abuse and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Opioid abuse and personality disorders are also not uncommon. You can learn about some of the most common co-occurring disorders here.

Dual diagnosis can also affect people from all walks of life—women and men, rich and poor, old and young. It does not matter your upbringing or your socio-economic status, where you live or your cultural background. Substance addiction and mental health disorders can happen to anyone, though certain risk factors can make a person more vulnerable.

  1. Mental health disorders and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand.

Substance use disorders are considered mental health disorders, as they revolve around chronic changes in the brain and a user’s neurological function. Substance addiction affects a person’s ability to control impulses and behaviors, or make rational decisions. It can also disrupt a person’s brain development. It’s no wonder, then, that substance addiction and mental illness often intertwine.

According to national research, people who suffer from mood and anxiety disorders are twice as likely to become addicted to drugs. The reverse is also true: Those who are addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. Due to the complex nature of these disorders, it is often unclear whether one disorder causes another, or if underlying risk factors contribute to both. However, studies show that three possible circumstances contribute to the relationship between substance abuse and mental health:

  • Drugs and alcohol trigger symptoms of another mental illness
  • Difficult symptoms of mental illness cause users to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol
  • Both substance use disorders and other mental health disorders are caused by underlying risk factors, such as early exposure to stress and trauma or genetic vulnerabilities
  1. Mental health disorders often affect women.

Although substance use disorders are more often diagnosed in men, many mental health disorders affect women disproportionately. This puts women – both young and old – at risk for co-occurring disorders. As detailed in a prior article, it’s estimated that up to 80 percent of young women suffering from addiction are also struggling with a mental health disorder. This is often due to the high risk of abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual) women experience throughout their lifetimes. Between 55 and 99 percent of women in treatment for substance addiction report a history of trauma.

  1. Dual diagnosis often starts at an early age.

Drug use and addiction can happen to anyone, at any age, and the same can be said for mental illness. However, these disorders often start in the early teenage years.

A shocking reality for many parents is finding out their child is struggling with depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental health disorders. We often want to believe this can’t happen to young, happy-go-lucky teens. The truth is, adolescence is a prime time for mental health disorders and substance use disorders to develop. Unfortunately, they often go overlooked.

As cited by the World Health Organization, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age. However, most cases are left undetected or untreated. Without proper attention, these disorders can lead to social withdrawal, problems at school, substance use, and thoughts of suicide. Drug use also typically begins in adolescence, making co-occurring disorders a growing concern among teens.

  1. Dual diagnosis is very treatable, but requires specialized care.

People with dual diagnosis often exhibit more persistent and severe symptoms than those with just one substance use disorder or mental illness. These patients are often more resistant to treatment. Because of these challenges, and the complexity of this condition overall, dual diagnosis requires highly specialized, integrated care. The mental health disorders and substance use disorders must be addressed concurrently, and the relationship between the co-occurring disorders must be considered closely. 

If you or a loved one is facing a dual diagnosis, it is important to find a treatment center that is equipped to provide this level of care. Dual diagnosis treatment centers have clinicians specially trained in dual diagnosis and behavioral therapies to help treat co-occurring disorders. 

Turnbridge is recognized for our mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs for young adults and adolescents. If you are interested in learning more about our dual diagnosis programs, or how to get help for your loved one, please do not hesitate to call 877-581-1793 today.