There is a high risk with many mental disorders for someone to have an addiction. Some of the illnesses included but not limited to are PTSD, Bipolar, and Schizoaffective. According to SAMHSA, nearly 9 million people have a co-occuring mental health and substance use disorder and only about 7% of those people receive treatment for both while approximately 60% go through life with no treatment at all. Those are some staggering numbers. 

When someone has a mental illness with a co-occurring addiction, this is called a dual diagnosis. “When family members we love become addicted, they can no more resist using alcohol or drugs than they can willfully “cure” themselves from their other disorder.” NAMI  The most recent approach to this is to find integrated treatment, which means, the same doctor or team of doctors to treat the patient. This plan has the most successful results as opposed to the outdated “treat the addiction” first and then the mental illness or treating at the same time by two different doctors.

Having a dual diagnosis is a classic case of what came first – the chicken or the egg? Some of the questions that may go through your head when witnessing this devastating illness is, “Did my loved one start using drugs and that caused their mental illness?” Or, “Did they start having symptoms of mental illness and started self-medicating to make it go away?”  But does it really matter? What it boils down to is, your loved one needs professional help. 


Getting a correct diagnosis has its challenges. Many times the symptoms overlap and/or are similar, making it difficult to diagnose. Simply put, “mental illnesses and addictions have a lot of the same psychological, social, and biological components”. (Very Well Mind) Keep in mind though, recovery is possible. It also may take multiple times to help your loved one due to relapses. It will be a life-long recovery, but it will be recovery.

Helpful Links:
MentalHealth.gov – Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders
Psychology Today – Bipolar & Addiction
DualDiagnosis.org – PTSD & Addiction
DualDiagnosis.org – Schizoaffective & Addiction
NAMI.org – Integrated Treatment
NAMI.org – Dual Diagnosis
NCBI – 9 Substance-Induced Disorders
While it is difficult to identify co-occurring disorders because of the combined effects and similar symptoms of substance misuse and mental health conditions, a dual diagnosis may be necessary if the following signs are present:

• Drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms like cravings and withdrawals
• Depression, anxiety, grief, anger, etc. that intrude on everyday living
• High tolerance for substances being used
• Risky behavior to maintain the addictive habit
• Extreme changes in behavior
• Perceived inability to function without alcohol or drugs
• Difficulties in relationships at home, in the community and at work or school caused by symptoms
• Physical and mental health problem

The Recovery Village – Columbus

If you are thinking about suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line, a free text message service available 24/7, at 741-741.

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