Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is complicated.  It means that at least two things are going on at the same time.  It’s a case of looking past the obvious and seeing into the real issue.  Dual diagnosis is a descriptor for the co-existence of a mental health illness and a substance abuse problem or addiction.

The term “self medicate” is sometimes used to describe using addictive substances to mask or cope with the symptoms of mental illness, including, anxiety, depression and bipolar.  While some use substance to “help” manage the symptoms of emotional distress, the help is short-lived and often ends up becoming a new problem on its own. The problem then becomes a dual diagnosis.

Sometimes an addiction is the first part of a dual diagnosis as mental health issues, especially depression, develop with the progression of the addiction and its devastating effects on mental, physical, and emotional well being.  Either way, sorting out what is going on and interfering with life requires insight and experience and appropriate treatment.

The treatment for a dual diagnosis may also seem complicated.  Detox may be required so that psychotherapy and appropriate medical intervention can begin to turn things around toward recovery.  Support and self-help groups can be an important support as the process evolves.  The confusion can finally begin to lift as underlying problems are identified and treated.

Family and friends are often the first responders when a loved one’s life seems to be spiraling out of control.  It takes courage to fly in the face of the anger of a person who is suffering from a dual diagnosis to insist on intervention. A non-judgmental and proactive presence can make the difference in saving a life.  Professional help can be a support to family as well as the person who is suffering through this challenge.  Hope is then “on the way.”