Learning to manage substance use disorder (SUD) can be difficult. Not only must a person stop consuming drugs or alcohol, but they must also change routines and habits they may have developed while amid their addiction. When a person is diagnosed with a mental health disorder on top of SUD, this is called a dual diagnosis.
It can feel shocking and overwhelming to get that news. Did you do something to cause it? Did the drugs or alcohol cause you to develop a separate disorder? How can you possibly manage two disorders? A disorder is something someone develops, not something someone causes. While a mental health disorder or SUD diagnosis can be disruptive, there is hope for understanding and managing dual diagnosis.
Risk Factors of Dual Diagnosis
Just as there is no one reason a person develops SUD, there is no singular reason people develop mental health disorders. However, three main risk factors can lead to the development of either SUD or mental health disorders
#1. Genetic Risks
People get their facial features, hair color, and height from their parents. These are passed through behavioral characteristics and hereditary genes. This can be something like being right-handed or being able to fold your tongue.
However, this also means that people may receive other traits from their biological parents. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “[A]s much as half of a person’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs depends on his or her genetic makeup.” However, other factors play a role in the development of SUD.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Major mental disorders traditionally thought to be distinct share certain genetic glitches.” This supports the theory that genetics can lead to the development of mental health disorders.
#2. Involvement of Similar Brain Regions
The brain is made up of cells or neurons. These neurons create networks that communicate between different parts of the brain by sending messages or neurotransmitters. The messages communicate different things, like hunger pains or a headache when you need water.
When a person abuses substances, drugs and alcohol will start to interfere with how the neurons can send messages throughout the brain. Sometimes substances can stop the transmission of signals or overload the receptors that receive the messages. This means people will not feel important messages from their brain and body, like pain or enjoyment.
Mental health disorders can play a similar role by interfering with the signals in the brain. Chemicals like dopamine send signals that activate memory, learning, body movement, and the reward system. Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder can cause dopamine imbalances, which will interfere with how someone functions and feels in everyday life.
#3. Environmental Factors
The environment someone is raised in or surrounds themselves with can also play a role in developing a dual diagnosis. This also includes what someone is exposed to and how early in life. When you grow up around parents or other adults who are abusing substances and normalize substance use at all ages, it becomes easier for you to start abusing substances. An addiction can easily grow from there.
Unfortunately, if someone abuses drugs and alcohol, the chemicals in their brains are changed. Due to changes in the brain, a mental health disorder can develop. However, the opposite can be said as well; people who get diagnosed with a mental health disorder first sometimes end up self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to manage the symptoms of their disorder.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can also lead to the development of either SUD or a mental health disorder. The environment someone is raised in is crucial to who they will become and how they will be able to handle what life throws at them. When someone experiences ACEs, this can lead to the abuse of substances to stave off memories or feelings.
Treating Dual Diagnosis
A person should not be afraid if they are given a dual diagnosis. There is hope. A holistic approach to treatment is needed for a person to treat a dual diagnosis fully. This means that all aspects of a person must be included in the treatment goals, including mind, body, and spirit. This is done by healing the body from how substances or neglect from a mental health disorder can deteriorate health and wellness.
Healing the Body
By healing the body, a person’s brain can function normally. For example, when not properly fed, brain power gets taken up by trying to do normal functions, like walking. However, normal functions like walking become increasingly hard the more malnourished someone is.
When a person abuses substances over a long period, drugs and alcohol tend to make them forget to eat and take care of themselves. Mental health disorders can cause lethargy and lack of motivation or care that can cause similar malnutrition or neglect. Because of this, a person’s body must be paid attention to in treatment just as much as their mind.
Healing the Mind
Since the mind excites people for life or motivates them to keep going, treatment for dual diagnosis must treat both disorders. If someone receives treatment for only a mental health disorder, they may be more likely to relapse. This is because substance abuse has not been dealt with. If someone only receives treatment for SUD, they are also more likely to relapse. When mental health symptoms are not treated, an individual may return to substances to cope.
Healing the Spirit
Spirituality helps people find purpose and meaning in life. However, spirituality and religion are not the same. Treatment approaches like yoga and meditation can help individuals connect to their spirituality and find meaning in their recovery journey.
Have you been struggling with substance abuse? Are your thoughts making it hard to get through the day? Do your emotions feel out of control even when not drinking or using? At Laguna Shores Recovery Center in Mission Viejo, we have a treatment program for you. You will find programs to help you learn to manage your dual diagnosis through treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), 12-Step support groups, and more. We believe all disorders are treatable with the right support and a holistic treatment approach. Contact Laguna Shores today at (866) 774-1532. Our experienced staff looks forward to welcoming you to the Laguna Shores family.