Dual Diagnosis Can Be a Barrier to Recovery

There are many people who succeed in recovery. They participate in addiction treatment, get sober, regularly attend 12-step meetings, and create a new sober life. However, there are just as many people who do not succeed in recovery. They might relapse multiple times and eventually find themselves drinking or using drugs again. However, when this is the case, it’s common that there is an obstacle to their success in recovery. It’s quite possible that there is a problem that a person hasn’t yet addressed.

Frequently, the obstacles to a successful recovery include:

  • Addiction treatment did not provide a person with healthy coping tools for a person to rely upon instead of using drugs and alcohol when life gets stressful.
  • A person has not fully healed from past trauma or other challenging experiences in their life.
  • A person has not attended mental health treatment that addresses a psychological illness that might be underlying an addiction.

The last point above is very common for a large number of people. In fact, about 80% of those who struggle with an addiction also have a mental illness of some sort. Common examples of mental illness that accompany an addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

When a person has both an underlying psychological illness as well as an addiction, it is referred to as having a dual diagnosis. It is also occasionally called having a co-occurring disorder. Many people who have challenging symptoms of their illness may turn to alcohol or drugs as a means to cope with their symptoms. This is especially true if the mental illness is not currently being treated. It’s common for a person with an untreated psychological illness to attempt to cope with the illness through substance use.

At the same time, it’s possible for someone to develop a mental illness as a result of their addiction. The worsening cycle of addiction and its effect on the body and the brain can cause certain changes in the brain that trigger depression, anxiety, or other disorders. Experiencing an addiction can be incredibly challenging and can lead to severe anxiety, loneliness, depression, and other unhealthy states of mind.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction as well as a mental illness, it’s necessary to call a mental health provider. When both an addiction and a psychological disorder go untreated, each can affect the other. An addiction can make worse a mental illness and a mental illness can make an addiction worse. By calling for help, a person can get treatment for both. In fact, it’s essential that a person with a dual diagnosis can treated for both illnesses simultaneously.

Dual diagnosis can be a barrier to recovery, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as a person can get treatment for both the addiction and the mental illness, he or she should be able to succeed in sobriety – as long as all the other obstacles to sobriety (mentioned above) are also taken care of. Dual diagnosis is a challenging experience, but it’s possible to overcome it!


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