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The Double Jeopardy of Dual Diagnosis

Does a person with a mental health diagnosis become an addict because of the medication he needs to help his illness? Can an addict be the victim of medications with side effects that go awry and spark mental health problems? The answer to both questions can be yes. Addiction treatment specialists are looking at the very real challenges of addressing co-occurring diagnoses of mental health problems and addiction.

You’ve Heard About the Chicken and the Egg…

Even with everything that addiction specialists know today, they still cannot agree on what comes first—addiction or mental health problems. Sometimes there is a clear timeline that allows doctors or counselors to recognize that a person suffered from emotional disorders long before he was abusing drugs, but often there is no unambiguous distinction.

Possibly someone with an underlying mental health disorder begins taking drugs to make himself feel calmer or happier. Maybe a person functions well with no obvious problems until his experimentation with drugs brings to the surface the symptoms that he was genetically in danger of developing. In many cases, nobody really knows for certain.

Unfortunately, both of these problems frequently co-exist or co-occur. Politicians, insurance administrators, and people involved in the legal system insist that they are separate issues, and so mental health and addiction treatment specialists are stymied in their attempts to formulate coordinated treatments for affected individuals.  

When Drugs Come First

People who use drugs experience a wide spectrum of mental health symptoms even if there is no underlying mental health problem. For drugs as commonplace as cocaine and amphetamines, symptoms can range from paranoia to anxiety and agitation to aggression. Sometimes a person will see and hear things that aren’t there. Drug-related psychoses come into play when you consider that methamphetamine users often report hearing voices and seeing things. Even with marijuana, now approved for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, scientists are connecting the dots between a gene variant (catechol-o-methyltransferase) and schizophrenia.

Specialists do know that when someone is predisposed to develop mental health problems such as manic depression or even schizophrenia, once he begins to take drugs the symptoms of the mental health disorder will come to the surface sooner had the person not used drugs.  An older person might accept a warning that he should avoid drugs for that reason, but somebody who is in his teens or early 20s figures that he’s invincible and he will typically scoff at any warnings.

When Mental Health Comes First

Someone who suffers from a mental health diagnosis is at a very real risk of drug abuse. In younger people or in people without a regular family physician, depression or mood disorders may go undiagnosed for years. Attention deficit disorder may be written off as a behavioral problem. The person goes untreated, and he discovers that he feels better if he smokes a joint or takes a pill that he finds in the family medicine cabinet.

Treatment Is Possible

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 26 percent of the general population suffers from some kind of mental health disorder.  Substance abuse professionals realize that just by statistical default, 26 percent of their patients seeking substance abuse help will suffer from a mental health disorder.

Licensed and accredited substance abuse treatment centers, like Vista Taos Renewal Center, can help the person become whole even if he suffers from the dual diagnoses of mental health problems and addiction. Both illnesses should be treated together, but even if relapse occurs the patient should maintain focus on working toward recovery. The counselor will educate the patient so the he understands both of his illnesses and becomes empowered to develop coping skills and strategies. With patience and perseverance, recovery from a dual diagnosis is possible.   Get help today, call 1.800.245.8267 to learn more.

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COVID-19 update: The health and safety of our clients at Vista Taos is our top priority. Each person admitted to our program will be given a PCR Covid screen upon entry and subsequently will follow our isolation protocol as we await the results.
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