Dual Diagnosis: Is Your Alcoholism Caused By a Mental Illness? Key Indications it Could Be

The truth of the matter is, drinking alcohol is considered a social norm, but can easily become the beginning of the road to alcohol abuse. While people do not have the intention of abusing alcohol when they first start to drink, alcoholism often occurs as a result of continual binge drinking. As a depressant, people turn to alcohol for various reasons, and either become dependent very quickly or for others, it takes longer. In whatever case, it is important to know, that alcohol dependence can lead down a very dark path, leading to serious life-changing complications. 

Nearly 17 million American adults in the United States have an alcohol-related problem, meaning having a dependency or addiction to alcohol, otherwise known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism. Research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), states that approximately 88,000 people die annually from alcoholism-related causes that could have been prevented. 

In fact, alcoholism is the third leading cause of preventable deaths throughout the United States. Let these statistics sink in. This means, that those people suffering could have received help for their addiction, but couldn’t or it was too late.

How Do I Know if I’m an Alcoholic? 

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms outlined by the DSM-V, they more than likely qualify as being an alcoholic. These include:

  • Drinking excessively for a longer period of time than intended.
  • Incapable of cutting back on the amount consumed.
  • Becoming or making yourself sick due to drinking too much.
  • Inability to function or concentrate without craving alcohol. 
  • Inability to carry out important tasks, such as caring for family, holding down a job, or going to school. 
  • Continuing to drink despite strained relationships with friends or family.
  • Convincing others to also drink. 
  • Pushing away from activities or people that were once important. 
  • Finding yourself in dangerous or harmful situations because of drinking. 
  • Continuously drinking and blacking out despite it causing depression, anxiety, and other health problems. 
  •  Drinking more because you are dependent and tolerant of it. 
  •  You are experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these statements above, it is best to start seeking help from a professional alcohol treatment center, the earlier the better. Sana Lake Recovery Center in Dittmer, Missouri can help you recover so that you can live a long-term healthy and sober lifestyle. 

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis also referred to as co-occurring disorders are when substance abuse and a mental health disorder occur simultaneously. It is extremely important to note, that mental health can be caused by excessive drinking, or those with an already existing mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression, oftentimes turn to alcohol as their substance of choice, to suppress and numb what they are feeling. 

When there is a dual diagnosis present, a person who has substance abuse can have multiple conditions, and vice versa. For example, a functioning alcoholic can suffer from bipolar disorder, heroin or crack addict can have clinical depression, the combinations are endless. According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million people in the United States experience co-disorders, most commonly men, 4.1 million of them to be exact. The symptoms of dual diagnosis include: 

  • Isolation from loved ones, family and friends
  • Denial to get help
  • Extreme changes in mood, becoming increasingly irritable, angry, or anxious
  • Changes in appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
  • Losing motivation and energy
  • Noticeable loss in focus or completing everyday tasks 
  • Neglecting personal or professional responsibilities
  • Trying to justify drinking excessively 

An individual with co-occurring disorders, for example, depression, are more likely to be the one to drink alcohol, as a means of self-medicating to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings of helplessness. Specific research has shown that while excessive drinking does not produce behavioral conditions, alcohol consumption exacerbates the symptoms of mental illness, making it increasingly more difficult to treat. 

Alcoholism and Mental Illness are Linked 

Alcoholism and mental illness are linked but in various ways. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that about one-third of individuals who are struggling with alcohol abuse problems, also suffer from a mental illness. This is called a dual diagnosis. While this is very true, it is not always the case, as everyone and their level of addiction are different. 

Mental illness is defined as a condition that affects a person’s mood, thinking, emotions, and behavior. These conditions often affect someone’s ability to function properly and maintain normal relationships with others. There are various types and levels of mental illness, which affect each person with one, differently. The most common mental health conditions that occur when abusing alcohol and other substances include:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Clinical Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Dementia
  • Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity (ADD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

As mental illness affects a person’s ability to function, in addition to thinking and feeling properly, so does drinking alcohol, excessively. Addiction is a mind-altering disease, so when that addiction is alcohol, as a depressant, it impairs and slows down one’s central nervous system (CNS), where the vital parts of the brain — mainly its physical and psychological activity become significantly reduced. 

It is evident that alcohol especially worsens the symptoms of mental illnesses, and therefore treatment by professionals who specialize in mental disorders and addiction is of utmost importance. While help is needed for addicts suffering from alcoholism and a mental disorder, oftentimes, dual diagnosis goes undiagnosed and untreated for long periods of time, which is greatly responsible for the increase in the rate of relapses.

Truth is, dual diagnosis is the key to a patient’s successful recovery. While addiction relates to trauma, anxiety, depression, and biochemical imbalances in the brain, addicts usually attempt to regulate or relieve their pain by using and abusing substances of their choice. Dual diagnosis combines both the factors or symptoms of addiction so that a patient can be treated properly and be on the road to recovery, to ultimately live a healthy and sober lifestyle

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

There is no doubt that there is an ongoing stigma surrounding mental health, one that medical professionals or those suffering have been trying to put to rest. It is important to realize that while some individuals may be open about struggling with substance abuse and addiction, others deny having a problem at all, which is a common reaction for various reasons. People struggling with both alcohol abuse and a mental disorder view their predicament as a failure and an embarrassment.

As a result, people are afraid to admit they have a problem, which is detrimental on all levels, but it happens all the time, and unfortunately, sometimes too late. Alcoholism and mental health is a sensitive subject. In cases such as these, it may be beneficial to discuss the matter with an alcohol counselor or treatment specialist. Denial and ignoring this severe problem will only cause further complications and take complete control over a person’s life. 

How is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

Getting help is the first step, and the sooner the better. Early diagnosis equals successful outcomes in the medical world. In other words, the sooner that symptoms of dual diagnosis are recognized and treated properly, the greater the chance for long-term recovery. 

The idea that both a substance abuse problem, such as alcoholism, and having a mental disorder need to be treated separately is outdated. Today, co-occurring disorders are often treated together. The goal during treatment for dual diagnosis is to understand the ways each condition; alcoholism and depression, for example, affect one another, and how treatment can be most effective. 

During treatment for dual diagnosis, you and your treatment provider will sit down and go through what is called the intake or medically-assisted detox. This comprehensive process allows the treatment center to get to know the patient as a whole, by doing a psychological assessment and gathering medical history. This allows specialists to be able to administer the right form of treatment, tailoring it to each patient’s needs, as everyone and their situations are different. Here are the most common methods used to treat co-occurring disorders: 

  • Inpatient Rehab: A person experiencing both this dangerous combination of substance abuse and mental illness may benefit from entering into an inpatient rehabilitation center. Inpatient rehab is also known as residential treatment, where individuals will live at the facility and receive treatment from medical and mental health professionals around the clock. Inpatient rehab provides support, therapy, and health services to best treat the alcohol use disorder (AUD, mental disorder, and its underlying cause. 

 

  • Outpatient Rehab: A person with a dual diagnosis often benefits from entering an outpatient rehab after living in inpatient rehab for an extended period of time. However, everyone’s treatment journey is different. Outpatient programs allow patients to recover from their co-occurring disorders while living a more independent life at home. People will not live at the facility like in inpatient, but will still attend hours of treatment several times each week, participating in various programs and support groups. With the help of treatment specialists, aside from attending groups and programs, they will also learn the necessary coping skills to learn how to best deal with their mental health in everyday situations. Most addiction treatment centers also offer intensive outpatient programs (IOP) for those who need extreme treatment.

 

  • Detoxification: The first part of the comprehensive treatment plan before being admitted into a rehabilitation center is called detox. Trained medical staff will monitor a person and start to wean them off their substance of choice, in this case, alcohol until it is removed entirely from the bloodstream. Withdrawals will occur, but the goal is to lessen symptoms and the effect it has on the body. Once detox is complete, the person will be admitted into an inpatient or outpatient program to continue their journey to recovery.

Sana Lake Can Help You Recover

At Sana Lake Recovery Center, our specialists know how to treat both substance abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously. We will examine both the addiction side and mental health side, and as a result, administer the right treatment plan to treat both in hopes of having an optimal outcome of sobriety.  

We are a world-class facility, where our approach is individually based, as we recognize everyone’s situations and needs are different. Our specialists pride ourselves in providing the most effective personalized treatment plan for our patient’s suffering from both substance abuse issues, such as alcoholism, and co-occurring mental health issues. We will evaluate each person’s needs to determine what program would benefit the most, in addition to providing them with the basic lifestyle and coping skills, and other tools they need to live a high-quality of life. 

If are suffering from alcohol abuse and a mental disorder, here at Sana Lake, we specialize in dual diagnosis and understand the challenges and fears that you are facing while overcoming alcohol abuse. While it is not easy to stop using a substance that you have been dependent on, our compassionate team is dedicated to helping save and change our patient’s lives for the better. You are not alone! To get help today, contact us in Dittmer, MO by calling (636) 707-2097 today. 

References: 

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.

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