A dual diagnosis involves both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem. Alcoholics or drug addicts often struggle with mental health disorders as well. This is also known as a co-occurring disorder, as well as comorbidity.
One of the disorders may have caused the other; however, this is not always true. In fact, most of the disorders happen independently of one another. They can pop up at the same time or sequentially. Regardless of the situation, it puts the drug user in a compromising situation.
When dealing with an addiction, it’s vital that the mental health conditions are treated at the same time as the addiction. This improves the mental condition of the drug users and alcoholics. It also increases the chances of a successful recovery. It’s easier to regain a balance in one’s brain chemistry. Here’s a more in-depth look at dual diagnosis treatment programs for alcoholism. You’ll find out why this type of addiction treatment is important, and what it can achieve.
Common Mental Health Disorders that Occur at the Same Time as Alcohol Abuse
A dual diagnosis addiction involving alcoholism can include many other mental health conditions. It’s not unusual for alcohol addiction to trigger other mental health issues. This is because alcohol affects many chemical pathways in the brain.
Each recovery center should perform a fairly thorough assessment of each patient to determine whether there’s a dual diagnosis addiction. Each patient can struggle with a different type of mental health illness. Some of the most common mental health issues that affect alcoholics include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Depending on the severity of the mental health conditions, intensive outpatient treatment programs or inpatient treatment programs may be recommended. Patients who require a higher level of care will need inpatient treatment programs. Those who can get away with therapy sessions and detox may be able to get away with intensive outpatient programs.
Knowing which mental health disorder needs to be treated is an essential part of relapse prevention. Patients who feel stronger and healthier mentally are much less likely to return to drugs. They are more likely to break free from addiction.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Dual Diagnosis Disorder
Gauging whether a drug user is an addict can be difficult. Many heavy drinkers are functioning alcoholics. They can hold steady jobs and perform errands. With that said, it’s even harder to diagnose a dual diagnosis although abuse and mental illness often come in hand in hand. It’s not unusual for many people to overlook the warning signs of a dual diagnosis addiction.
- Knowing what to look for is half the battle. It’s vital to a successful recovery. The signs and symptoms of dual diagnosis addiction include:
- Changes in appetite. This can include eating significantly more or less.
- Difficulties with concentrating or in completing tasks.
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Loss of energy and motivation.
- Mood swings, like increased irritability, anger or depression.
- Neglect in both personal and professional lifestyles.
- Social isolation from family members and friends
For a correct diagnosis, all substance abusers must be honest about their situation. This is the easiest way for the recovery center to draft up a feasible and effective treatment plan. Different treatment options are offered based on the type of coverage provided in one’s health care plan.
When attempting to quit drinking, the signs and symptoms of a dual diagnosis addiction may become more severe. If the mental illness is not treated, it can graduate into a severe psychiatric disorder. It can also cause addiction to worsen.
Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Brain
Dual diagnosis runs amok among alcoholics. Alcohol can have a significant effect on the brain. Choosing the right rehab is vital in correcting any of these issues that may arise.
Although alcohol abuse may not necessarily cause mental illness, it could provoke it to happen. Alcohol impacts many neurochemical pathways. It causes the brain to experience a significant imbalance in signals by either:
- Flooding it with certain chemical signals; or,
- Attaching to specific receptors in the brain, so certain signals become useless.
For example, it can affect dopamine production in some parts of the brain. It causes an increase in dopamine at the reward pathway. This pathway is found in the nucleus accumbens. As a result, alcoholics feel rewarded whenever they drink.
After a while, an alcoholic’s brain will become used to the artificial dopamine levels. The mind will yearn for alcohol whenever it is not available. The increase in dopamine also makes it harder for alcoholics to catch a buzz. The only way for an alcohol user to get relief is to drink. These interaction sare why it’s difficult to stop drinking. It’s also the main culprit responsible for alcohol dependence.
The Types of Neurotransmitters Affected by Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol doesn’t only affect dopamine. This substance affects may different neurological and neurochemical pathways in the body. It’s also been known to affect the natural production of the following signals:
- Adrenaline. The adrenal glands may produce and release more adrenaline due to alcohol consumption. Adrenaline then travels to the brain via the bloodstream. It can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier.
- GABA. Alcohol’s effect on the GABA system causes feelings of relaxation and drowsiness.
- Glutamate. A spike in glutamate leads to alcohol effects like memory blackouts and slurred speech.
- Endorphins. This neurotransmitter is responsible for the “high” that many alcoholics get from drinking.
- Norepinephrine. Because of this chemical, alcohol can act as not only a depressant but also as a stimulant.
Dual diagnosis rehab will measure each patient’s brain chemistry levels. The addiction treatment works to rebalance the body and system. This helps to improve one’s mental health. Serious spikes can cause both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
The Importance of Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
In most cases, only alcohol addiction gets treated. Some patients don’t even realize that they are dealing with a mental health disorder as well. This leaves the mental health disorders free to wreak havoc on the alcohol user’s brain. Since the mental health disorder causes brain chemistry changes, those with a dual diagnosis will have a harder time getting sober. They are more likely to relapse. The brain chemistry changes caused by the mental illness will trigger more intense cravings.
Dual diagnosis addiction treatment will restore brain chemistry back to normal levels. This makes it easier to fight addiction. It also improves a patient’s mental state so that they feel happier and more care-free.
How Dual Diagnosis Alcohol Detox Works
Due to the immense chemical changes in the brain, it’s vital that co-occurring disorders are treated at the same time. At most rehab facilities, alcohol detox comes first. Patients receive medication-assisted treatment to ease physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The alcohol detox usually lasts for seven days. After this point in time, the withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside.
During alcohol detox, patients also receive therapy sessions to treat the mental disorders. Behavioral therapy, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is one of the more highly recommended therapies. It’s important to look at evidence-based treatment options that will work best for both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder. Treatments backed with more evidence will have a higher success rate. Most dual diagnosis programs also include aftercare programs that prevent relapses. These aftercare programs also help maintain a healthy mental condition.
It’s important to note that alcohol users who also abuse drugs will need to be treated for all illicit drugs. Their situation will be more complex, and will require more attention from health professionals.