Dual Diagnosis & Alcohol Addiction

This Page was last reviewed and changed on August 3rd 2021

Content Overview

When two mental health disorders occur at the same time, it is often referred to as a dual diagnosis. Alcoholism is an illness of the brain that often occurs simultaneously with other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, making treating it more complex. A dual diagnosis requires specialist treatment in a facility equipped to deal with both conditions at the same time. Treating one condition and not the other could mean you find yourself right back where you started. It is therefore important that a dual diagnosis is correctly identified and treated.

The Effects of Dual Diagnosis Treatment on Alcohol Abuse

The term ‘dual diagnosis’ first came into use in the 1980s. It was coined to describe people who were diagnosed with psychotic illnesses while, at the same time, misusing drugs or alcohol. The term has a much broader meaning today. Where alcohol addiction is concerned, a person can be given a dual diagnosis if the alcohol condition is observed in tandem with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness.

You may be a candidate for dual diagnosis if you are simultaneously having trouble with alcohol and a mental disorder. Neither problem has to be terribly severe to qualify as a dual diagnosis. Also, note that dual diagnosis is not limited to mental disorders and alcohol. They can involve heroin, cocaine, or any other addictive drug.

Treating a dual diagnosis situation is never easy. Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment either. Doctors and therapists must custom-tailor treatments to individual patients based on their own diagnoses and the severity of each condition being treated. They must also take into account how treatment for the mental disorder might possibly affect the addiction.

Assuming you are suffering from a combination of alcohol abuse and depression, any treatment you might receive for that depression would have to account for your alcohol abuse. For example, some medications used to treat depression can make overcoming alcohol addiction more difficult. This is just one example of the effects of dual diagnosis treatment on alcohol abuse.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders

The key to successful alcohol treatment in a dual diagnosis situation lies in understanding alcohol use disorders at their very core. Doctors and therapists with a thorough understanding of how alcohol affects the brain are better equipped to create effective treatment plans. They are better equipped to work with patients to help them understand just what is going on inside them.

As a patient in recovery, your understanding of alcohol use disorders should grow as you progress through your treatment. Your doctors and nurses will work with you to help you understand the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of alcohol abuse. They will help you understand how you got to where you are and how you can get to a place of full recovery.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health Problems

With a thorough understanding of alcohol use disorders, doctors and therapists can devise treatment plans capable of addressing the many facets of dual diagnosis. They can combine treatment for alcohol abuse and mental health problems in a comprehensive treatment plan with long-term alcohol recovery and mental illness management at the core.

If this sounds complicated, that is because it is. It takes a special body of knowledge to safely and effectively address dual diagnosis problems. This is one of the many reasons we encourage alcohol and drug users to take advantage of our expert services. A big part of what we do is helping clients locate the right kinds of treatments.

Causes of Dual Disorders

Unknown causes are part of what makes dual diagnosis treatment so complicated. We cannot say for certain that alcohol abuse always leads to depression, or vice-versa. So there is no way to definitively say that one condition led to the other.

That said, we do know that there are certain causes linked to mental illness and alcoholism as separate entities.

Clinicians need to ask a number of different questions to try to sort out these root causes so as to determine how the conditions are related.

This requires looking at the history of both conditions. A doctor might ask you how long you suffered from depression and alcohol abuse. He or she might want to know if you recognise symptoms of one before the other. He/she would certainly want to know about your family history, your current living conditions, and so forth.

Common Dual Diagnosis with Alcohol Use Disorder

If you believe you are suffering from a dual diagnosis situation, know that you are not alone. According to the NHS, dual diagnosis scenarios involving alcohol are more common than most people realise. They estimate that between 30% and 50% of those with mental health problems also suffer from drug or alcohol abuse.

Among the two most common dual diagnosis scenarios involving alcohol abuse correlate with either depression or anxiety. It is not clear why these two particular mental disorders are so prevalent in dual diagnosis situations, but they are.

Signs and Symptoms of Common Co-Occurring Disorders in Alcohol Abuse

The signs and symptoms associated with dual diagnosis vary from case to case. They are heavily dependent on the combination of mental disorder and substance being used. For example, the symptoms exhibited by someone dealing with depression and alcohol abuse will be far different from symptoms associated with cannabis and schizophrenia.

In terms of co-occurring disorders involving alcohol abuse, doctors and counsellors may look more at social cues than actual physical symptoms. Below is a list of common co-occurring disorders along with some of the signs doctors and therapists might look for.

Depression and Alcohol Use Disorders

If you are the kind of person who drinks to drown your sorrows, you may be exhibiting signs of co-occurring depression and alcohol abuse. You might be a dual diagnosis candidate if your feelings of depression drive you to drink.

Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders

A tell-tale sign of combined anxiety disorder and alcohol use is the belief that alcohol reduces your anxiety when, in fact, it actually makes it worse. This co-occurring condition creates a never-ending cycle in which you might drink to ease your anxiety only to find that it makes you more anxious after the alcohol wears off. You are then led to drink more – and the cycle continues.

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Bipolar and Alcohol Use Disorders

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depression. It is characterised by extreme mood swings with temporary periods of stability in between. When it co-occurs with alcohol abuse, that co-occurrence produces more pronounced emotions at either end. People suffering from both bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse also exhibit a greater tendency toward violent behaviour and suicide.

Obsessive-Compulsive and Alcohol Use Disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of anxiety that results in repetitive, obsessive behaviours. When this disorder is combined with alcohol abuse, the excessive behaviour can be much more pronounced. Furthermore, sufferers may turn to alcohol if they believe they cannot adequately deal with their compulsive behaviours.

Borderline Personality and Alcohol Use Disorders

A person suffering from borderline personality disorder suffers from overwhelming fear and emotional pain. He or she may mask that fear and pain with a personality that appears to be manipulative and overly dramatic. When this condition occurs with alcohol abuse, some of the more severe symptoms of the disorder can become quite serious. Sufferers are more likely to be violent, severely depressed, and dependent on alcohol to cope.

Antisocial Personality and Alcohol Use Disorders

An antisocial personality disorder is characterised by reckless living, risk-taking, and manipulation of other people. People with the disorder tend to pay little regard to rules or social norms. And because alcohol consumption can temporarily produce many of the same symptoms, separating the two can be difficult.

Suicidal Thoughts and Alcohol Abuse

Although having suicidal thoughts is not necessarily a mental illness in and of itself, such thoughts on a regular basis are associated with other mental illnesses. Co-occurring suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse may be a sign of underlying depression or anxiety. At any rate, the person suffering from a co-occurrence is likely to exhibit deeper and longer periods of depression, low self-esteem, social isolation, and a reliance on alcohol to drown sorrows.

Difficulties in Making a Dual Diagnosis

As previously mentioned, making the correct dual diagnosis is a difficult proposition. During the initial examination, you may find that your doctor or therapist asks a lot of questions in order to determine exactly what you’re suffering from.

Every attempt will be made to understand if one of your conditions led to the other, either fully or in part.

Your doctor will also seek to understand how each of your two conditions affects the other. It may require several sessions for your doctor to fully understand just what’s going on.

It may turn out that what you thought was a dual diagnosis really isn’t. For example, you may be suffering from alcoholism severely enough that it is producing symptoms of depression even though you are not suffering from that mental disorder. The only way to know for sure is to begin treatment and wait to see how you respond.

Dual Diagnosis Alcohol Treatment Programmes

We don’t like to take any chances with potential dual diagnosis scenarios. If there is any chance you’re suffering from co-occurring disorders, we want to get you into a dual diagnosis alcohol treatment programme designed specifically for your needs. A generic treatment programme is inadequate.

Dual diagnosis treatment programmes are intended to treat both conditions simultaneously. More importantly, they involve highly flexible treatment plans that can be modified in accordance with how you respond. If it looks like one condition needs more attention than the other, the treatment plan can be altered.

Note that not every alcohol treatment programme in the UK is equipped to address dual diagnosis situations.

Inpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Inpatient programmes can be highly tailored to your needs, regardless of what they are. Throughout your treatment, you will be surrounded by caring doctors, nurses, and therapists who are committed to helping you recover.

Outpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment

If inpatient treatment is not appropriate for your circumstances, know that outpatient treatment is also available. An outpatient dual diagnosis programme may involve lots of different doctors and therapists in multiple locations. But rest assured you will be guided through the process by those treating you.

Reasons Why Dual Diagnosis Acts as a Barrier to Recovery

Dual diagnosis scenarios are challenging because the nature of dual diagnosis itself can be a barrier to recovery. There are several things to consider here, beginning with the reality that it can be difficult to decide if the co-occurring disorders are actually related. They may be, but then again, they may not be.

Another barrier to recovery is your response to treatment. For example, you may respond very well to medications prescribed to control your alcohol cravings. Those same medications may make your feelings of depression worse. The fact is that competing treatments sometimes create more problems than they solve.

The third barrier to recovery is incorrectly diagnosing the mental disorder in a co-occurring scenario. For example, you might be misdiagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder when it is really the alcohol abuse that is causing you to exhibit the symptoms. What you may really be suffering from is depression.

Dangers of Unqualified Advice in Recovery

Hand-in-hand with the barriers to recovery is unqualified advice. Receiving unqualified advice about a dual diagnosis situation is not only unhelpful, but it can be dangerous. This is why we invite you to let us help you. We are experts who can connect you with the treatment you need.

What are the dangers of unqualified advice? Following unqualified advice can make either of the two conditions worse. It can mask the true nature of your alcohol problem by focusing too heavily on the mental disorder, or vice versa. Unqualified advice can even lead you to make decisions that prove detrimental to your health.

Challenges in Treating A Dual Diagnosis

The challenges of treating a dual diagnosis problem do not end with the potential for misdiagnosis and competing treatments. There are other challenges as well. At the top of the list is choosing the best treatment for the mental disorder. For example, there are multiple ways to treat depression. How is it best treated in any individual case? That’s up to doctors to determine.

Another challenge is found in how dual diagnosis patients interact with one another. In a traditional alcohol rehab setting, therapists rely on patient interactions as a tool for moving treatment forward. They do the same thing in dual diagnosis situations, with the understanding that sometimes those interactions can be harmful.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to dual diagnosis treatment is the fact that there are no standards. Dual diagnosis situations are so unique that it is impossible to devise even a basic treatment plan that doctors and therapists can work with. Every treatment plan has to be designed for the patient from the ground up.

Choosing the Best Alcohol Dual Diagnosis Treatment Programme

With all of that said, it is in your best interests to choose the best dual diagnosis treatment programme you can find. Doing so begins with asking for help. You undoubtedly have a lot of questions; you need answers to those questions provided by experts.

We invite you to contact us for that help. We are experts in treatment referrals for both single and dual diagnosis patients. We know the particular treatment programmes offered in various locales throughout the UK. We can connect you with the right treatment centre for you.

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Dealing with Alcohol Addiction and Co-Occurring Mental Health Problems

Dealing with co-occurring conditions is certainly not easy. We understand that you might feel overwhelmed by both alcohol abuse and the mental disorder you are suffering from. We realise that you might feel like you are in a position of no hope.

Your long-term health, both mentally and physically, depends on you getting professional help as soon as possible. Not only will expert treatment help you deal with alcohol addiction and your co-occurring mental health issue, but it can also help you overcome the alcohol problem entirely.

Differentiating Pre-Existing and Alcohol Abuse Problems

Should you enrol in a dual diagnosis treatment programme, one of the first things you’ll experience is a professional assessment of your current condition. Your doctors and therapists will want to differentiate between any pre-existing conditions and your current alcohol abuse.

Differentiating between conditions allows doctors to better understand cause and effect. It allows them to more effectively create treatment plans that address alcohol abuse without negatively impacting your mental health. The goal is to effectively address the alcohol problem so that any underlying mental illness can be better managed.

Helping Someone with an Alcohol Problem in Addition to Another Disorder

Rehab clinics specialising in dual diagnosis specialise in helping people with an alcohol problem in addition to another disorder. Whether that other disorder is depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc., the common component is alcohol abuse. Treatment providers will focus on getting the alcoholism under control while simultaneously treating the other disorder.

In your case, it may turn out that even though you can fully recover from alcohol abuse, you may continue to struggle with a mental disorder. It could also be that you fully recover from both. There is no way to know until you actually undergo treatment.

Self-Help for Alcohol Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

Attempting to deal with co-occurring disorders via a self-help strategy is generally discouraged. If you feel as though you must try though, a good place to start is by addressing your drinking problem. You might want to seek out a local alcohol abuse support group and start attending meetings right away. You can enlist the help of friends and family to cut down the amount of alcohol you consume.

As a general rule, self-help is not likely to be effective for long-term recovery. Remember that dual diagnosis issues are complex and require understanding both alcohol abuse and mental disorders. We urge you to seek out professional help rather than trying to do this on your own.

Group Support for Alcohol Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

We also advise you to seek out group support. We cannot overstate the value of group support for both alcohol abuse and mental disorders. Group support provides mutual accountability, educational opportunities, and a safe environment in which you can work with others to get better.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a dual diagnosis affect a person?
Dual diagnosis scenarios affect different people in different ways. In most cases though, the co-occurring disorders are made worse the longer they are ignored.
Which comes first: mental illness or alcohol abuse?
There is no black and white answer to this question. In some cases, one disorder definitely precedes the other. But there are plenty of cases in which the two disorders begin manifesting themselves around the same time.
What is the between alcohol abuse and mental health?
There is a definite link between alcohol abuse and mental health. Exactly what that link is has not yet been established. There is some speculation that there is a common trigger that may lead to co-occurring disorders.
Why is it important to treat both the mood disorder and the alcohol use?
Dual diagnosis treatments make a point of treating both disorders simultaneously so as to avoid the potential consequences of treating only one. Treating just one could make the other worse.
When does alcohol addiction mean a dual diagnosis?
Alcohol addiction can indicate a dual diagnosis when it is accompanied by symptoms of an underlying mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, etc.
How is a dual diagnosis treated?
Dual diagnosis scenarios are treated by combining alcohol treatments with the best method for treating the particular mental disorder as chosen by the doctor. The goal is to alleviate the alcohol problem so that more attention can be paid to the mental disorder.
How common is dual diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis is more common than most people know. As many as 50% of those suffering from mental health issues are prone to using drugs or alcohol.
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