Dual Diagnosis on the Rise

Dual diagnosis refers to people who have both a diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. Any form of mental disorder coupled with alcohol or drug abuse can result in dual diagnosis. However, some types of mental illness are more common such as PTSD, depression, ADHD and anxiety.

The concept of dual diagnosis is fairly recent, coming into existence in 1984. At this time, the New York State Office of Mental Health began to recognize and develop treatment programs for people diagnosed with both alcohol or drug abuse and mental illness. This effort involved the crossing over of programs for substance abuse treatment, homelessness and the criminal justice system and soon spread to a state wide program that became a model for other states.

The need for recognition of dual diagnosis continues as cases of both mental illness and substance abuse increase. While the use of some illicit drugs has gone down in recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs, especially opiates, has increased dramatically. Misuse of prescription drugs in combination with symptoms of mental illness are common with dual diagnosis.

In some cases, people who become addicted to drugs develop symptoms of mental illness as a result. In other cases, people who already have a mental illness seek out drugs for alleviating symptoms such as depression and low self-esteem. Sorting out the symptoms of mental illness from the effects of prolonged alcohol abuse or drug use is one of the challenges of making a dual diagnosis.

As many as 50 percent of those diagnosed with severe mental illness also suffer with substance abuse. Many treatment centers do not accept people with mental illnesses, especially severe ones. This has left these people with limited options for treatment. Mental illness and substance abuse also are both frequently associated with the person denying the problem, making treatment even harder.

It is possible to treat people with dual diagnosis successfully. Most treatments recognize that it is a long term process and stress working closely over time with the patient. Relapses are common and peer and professional support are needed for keeping the patient on track. Peer support groups and after care are also vital parts of most treatment programs.

Dual diagnosis is common and is being increasingly recognized. Some of the recent changes in health care policy may make treatment more available for this population. People who have both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem will be helped by an atmosphere of openness that allows them to come forward for help.



Savannah White


Dual Diagnosis on the Rise by Savannah White
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