According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness a co-occurring disorder, also sometimes known as a dual diagnosis or a comorbidity, is exceptionally common in those who suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction. Dual diagnosis occurs when an addict who is afflicted by a chemical dependence on an intoxicating substance, regardless of if it is alcohol, illicit drugs, or even prescription medications straight from a physician’s script and also suffers from some sort of mental health disorder as well.

The patient diagnosed with a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder, would be someone who suffers from both their substance addiction as well as their mental illness simultaneously. When someone with a comorbidity of this nature the two disorders exacerbate each other’s symptoms making it that much more difficult to treat either disorder. This makes it absolutely imperative that the two disorders be treated at the same time. If someone tries to treat a dual diagnosis separately they will find that the instance one disorder starts to show signs of remission the other will come on stronger and when you think you are making progress on that one, the other will pop up again. It is a recipe for failure, and wasted energy. The addict can become extraordinarily heartsick and exhausted by the spent courage that it takes to get recovery treatment only to have the treatment not work.

Regardless of whether one disorder, the mental health or the addiction, came first and catalyzed the development of the other, or whether they came along as twins, spurred along by similar triggers perhaps, the two disorders hold each other up, they appear to be dedicated to keeping each other alive. In the end it is this that causes the two to be such a deadly combination for those addicts who also suffer with mental health complications.

Co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis come in all kinds. Addicts use a variety of substances and live with all sorts of different mental health disorders everyday, so there is no carbon copy blueprint for treatment. This is true of all addicts of course. All addiction treatment should be retrofitted to the specificities of the individual’s needs and struggles. This is doubly true when an addict has a dual diagnosis.

Both intoxicants and mental health disorders cause symptoms that add energy and take energy away from the afflicted person. They also have a tendency to share a symptom of affecting appetite, insomnia among other cross-over symptoms. Understanding better the mental health issues that addicts are commonly stricken by can help to offer a deeper understanding of the disorders themselves and can also help to shed more light on how addiction and mental illness might uplift one another and can also hopefully provide some perspective on how to best treat a person struggling with a dual diagnosis molding their treatment plan not only to their addiction needs but also making the plan specific to their mental illness.


Common Mental Health Disorders That Often Act As a Dual Diagnosis or Co-Occurring Disorder to Drug or Alcohol Addiction Are:

  • Discovery InstitutePost Traumatic Stress Disorder, Otherwise Known As PTSD Post traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness that usually occurs in a person who has experienced some form of devastating trauma. There are many different forms of trauma that can lead to someone developing post traumatic stress disorder, among them are events such as a natural disaster like that of Hurricane Maria or forest fire, losing a home, if someone experiences a violent crime, witnesses some form of tragic violence, go through a childhood abuse or experiences neglect they may suffer from PTSD. War veterans are tragically often stricken with post traumatic stress disorder when they return from war. PTSD is characterized by the following symptoms: an addict may experience violent flashbacks of their trauma, they may get nightmares, and suffer from pernicious and overwhelming fear, so much so that the person may feel like they are reliving the trauma that brought them to this point over and over again.   
  • Major Depressive Disorder Major Depressive Disorder is a common mental health disorder which is characterized by low stores of energy, a pronounced loss of interest in personal passion projects, rapid and extreme weight loss or extreme weight gain, crippling insomnia, and suicidal thoughts. There are many different kinds of depression related mood disorders and they vary in severity and symptoms which means that they all affect a person’s addiction differently.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD – Generalized anxiety disorder causes patients to experience a near constant fear and overwhelming anxiety about any number of different issues affecting their lives. Some common anxieties that patients present with are vocational related, financial stability, family complications, or other anxieties. Victims of GAD are often all too well aware of the lack of logic in some of their anxieties on, but due to an intense fear of not being able to be in control of any aspect of their lives the person suffering from this disorder will proactively try to control each moment and sometimes they will act recklessly to do so.
  • Bipolar Disorder – Bipolar disorder is one of those mood disorders that rely heavily on depression, the other part of the disorder is anxiety. Bipolar disorder offers up symptoms that cause a patient to go through shifting moods which file through a spectrum of different moods. Some people cycle through moods quickly and others can be in a state of mania or hypomania or depression for weeks or months at a time. As time goes by our understanding of bipolar disorder has changed from believing that the disorder was characterized by only two poles. Now scientists know that there is a spectrum. Scientists continue to build on their understanding of this disorder through cooperative studies and different kinds of research.
  • Eating Disorders – Eating disorders are a whole category of mental health disorder in their own right. Though society has spent years labeling eating disorders of all types as a personal failing by the person who suffers from them, the truth of the matter is that anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating are all chronic illnesses that no person chooses. No one wants to suffer from these so often deadly disorders. The shocking and heartbreaking thing is that the stigma  of judgement from so much of our society only reifies the problem for the person suffering from an eating disorder because it can cause a debilitating amount of trepidation in the heart of the person suffering and make it nearly impossible to ask for help out of the shame they feel because of the wrongheaded stigma that some of our society continues to bolster. Some eating disorders include people who over eat regularly, practically never eat, binge eat and then purge the food by vomiting, taking laxatives, among other methods, eat clay, or their own hair, etc.  
  • Depersonalization Derealization Disorder – According to the Mayo Clinic, depersonalization derealization disorder occurs when a patient feels as if they are observing their own lives from outside of themselves, almost like an out of body experience, or as if they are living in their dreams. They might even feel as like they are not real at all.
  • Discovery InstitutePersonality Disorder – Personality disorder is a kind of disorder that sees its victims relationships suffer substantially. This disorder so often can result in issues in a person’s vocation, in their personal lives, and in all of their different interpersonal exchanges.
  • Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is mental illness that borrows substantially from the anxiety disorder effects. This mental health disorder is characterized by serious panic attacks. These panic attacks often come on suddenly and overwhelm the patient’s  ability to function. They cause the patient to feel deep anxiety and fear, as well as a panic inducing loss of control. Sometimes a person’s anxiety can even cause a pounding of the heart, a heavy feeling on the chest, or can cause one’s throat to close up. This all results in patients feeling terrified and often confused when they first experience the attacks.  Some panic disorder patients only find out they are experiencing panic attacks when they go to the doctor for chest pain, or they go to the hospital because they are afraid they are dying during one of their first attacks.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – This disorder is most commonly referred to as OCD. OCD presents itself through a patient’s efforts to fight off their own paranoid thoughts, whether those thoughts are rational or irrational. The person who is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction or a person suffering only from OCD is afflicted with a constant fear that they often wish more than anything they could walk away from and chose not to have, but like all chronic disorders, OCD is not a choice. As they are unable to escape their own fears or  thoughts the patient, consciously or unconsciously creates compulsive rituals. These compulsions are the work of the sufferer to make an effort at quenching their obsessions, and the haunting paranoia or to at least quiet them for a little while.

Treatment For Dual Diagnosis at the Top Rated Drug Rehab Centers in NJ

At Discovery Institute a patient who suffers from a dual diagnosis can be firm in their trust that they will be cared for by not only a top notch licenced medical staff, but also a qualified licenced therapy staff. At Discovery Institute we believe in treating the patient holistically. At Discovery Institute we see addiction as a disorder that affects every single part of a patient from their physical bodies, to their relationships, and certainly recognize and take seriously how a mental health disorder alters a person’s ability to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction. With Discovery Institute we will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan that will support you as you heal from both your addiction and your dual diagnosis at the same time. Call us today to learn more about how we can effectively treat both mental illness and addiction.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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