What is a Dual-Diagnosis?
A dual-diagnosis, also known as a co-occurring disorder, is a term given to people who experience a substance use disorder and a mental illness simultaneously. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that approximately 9.2 million Americans are dually-diagnosed. There is no way to tell how many people in the United States have a co-occurring disorder but have not been properly diagnosed.
People who have bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, an eating disorder or other mental health issues often turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve uncomfortable symptoms. Before long, they develop a substance use disorder. Conversely, some people become addicted to alcohol or drugs and a mental illness manifests in the midst of the addiction.
Unfortunately, drinking alcohol or taking drugs – even though they might provide some short-term relief – is never a good idea for someone who has a mental disorder. Mind-altering substances ultimately make the symptoms worse and more unbearable. And, in the end, there are two illnesses to treat: the addiction AND the mental illness. This comes with its own unique set of challenges.
How to Be Properly Diagnosed
Diagnosing a co-occurring disorder can be challenging. Excessive drug and alcohol use can produce symptoms that are very similar to those experienced by people with a mental illness. These include anxiety, depression, extreme mood swings, unprovoked anger, hallucinations, and delusions.
Also, a mental illness can easily be overlooked because bizarre behavior and distorted thinking can be blamed on the addiction, rather than the mental illness.
Getting a proper diagnosis is essential to the recovery process for those who have mental health issues and want to get sober. There is only one way to do this and that is to see a doctor – preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist. They are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to recognize mental illness when it has reared its ugly head.
Unfortunately, there is no blood test that can diagnose a mental illness. In order to get a proper diagnosis, a doctor will get a complete medical history and identify symptoms. He or she may even ask you to take a written multiple-choice test like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) to give you a proper diagnosis.
There is No Shame in Having a Dual-Diagnosis
Addiction affects women in very profound ways. So does mental illness. It may be hard to believe, but one in five women is diagnosed with a mental illness every year in the United States.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with having mental health issues. We have certainly come a long way as a society in this area, but we still have a long way to go. This stigma often prevents women from getting the health they need. They are afraid they will be harshly judged and looked down upon. This is unfortunate.
We want you to know there is no shame in having a dual-diagnosis. This does not mean you are a weak, immoral, or bad person. It means you are a sick person who needs medical care in order to get well. It really is that simple. A mental illness is no different than a physical condition like diabetes. With proper treatment, it can go into remission.
Both Aspects of Your Illness Require Treatment
Please do not think that you are somehow less of a person or label yourself as “crazy” if you are dually-diagnosed. Many women find that a proper diagnosis brings them a sense of freedom.
Things finally make sense once the illness is given a name. So much comes into perspective, which can be a relief. The awesome news is that a co-occurring disorder can be properly treated. You can go on to enjoy a happy, healthy life in spite of your illness.
Remember, addiction is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. It is not a choice. Likewise, bipolar, schizophrenia, and anxiety are illnesses of the mind. You have no control over the fact that you are ill. It is not your fault.
Women with a co-occurring disorder must be treated for their substance use disorder AND their mental health issues simultaneously. You simply cannot treat one without the other.
Treatment may involve medication, residential treatment, individual therapy, and attending support groups with other people who have your diagnosis. Also, you might benefit from hollistic practices like yoga, meditation, equine therapy, or massage. Your doctor will create a customized plan just for you.
Treating Your Illness – Recovery is Possible
Dual-diagnosis treatment teaches women how to cope with their symptoms while staying sober one day at a time. It often involves a long-term care plan because both illnesses are chronic. Working a program of recovery in both areas is critical for those who are committed to staying sober and getting well.
We want you to know that you absolutely CAN stop using drugs and alcohol AND learn how to cope with a mental illness. Recovery is possible. Things have probably been very difficult for you thus far. But, if you take the brave first step on the path to healing, you will find that things do get better.
New Directions for Women Offers Dual-Diagnosis Specialized Care
We specialize in treating women of all ages who have been dually-diagnosed and need effective treatment by offering an extensive list of clinical services. We are run by women for women, offering a safe and sacred healing space for every woman who comes to stay with us.
We know that living with an addiction AND mental health issues is extremely difficult. It takes a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll on even the strongest woman. You don’t have to fight this battle alone and you shouldn’t try.
No matter how dark things may seem, there is always hope for a better life if you will make the commitment to get the help you need. At New Directions for Women, we have been helping women get on the path to recovery for more than 40 years. We can help you too.
Ready to find freedom from your dual-diagnosis? Get help now.