A dual diagnosis (also known as co-occurring disorders) often accompanies substance abuse in women. At New Directions for Women, women can get the help they need to address co-occurring disorders with our specialized dual diagnosis program.
For women battling addiction, substance abuse is often just one of the issues that need addressing. Generally, there are other behavioral or addiction issues at hand-such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or a secondary addiction. At New Directions, our staff is highly trained in co-occurring disorders. We’re prepared to facilitate treatment for the dual diagnosis faced by you or your loved one.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis is any diagnosis that occurs alongside drug or alcohol abuse. It’s common for substance abuse patients to have another mental disorder that occurs alongside their addiction. These conditions (such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder) could be what pushed a patient into addiction or a result of substance abuse. These dual diagnoses can also occur as a result of an attempt to abstain from an addictive substance.
Even though a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression, may seem mild compared to alcohol or drug addiction, these co-occurring disorders can be as harmful as substance abuse. Research shows that co-occurring disorders such as mental health issues can be just as detrimental to one’s well being as a serious substance abuse disorder.
A dual diagnosis can be difficult to spot if there has not been a previous singular diagnosis. Because the symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression can be so similar to those of a substance abuse disorder, there can be confusion about the origin of symptoms and how to best manage them. At New Directions for Women, we are trained in all manner of detox, mental health care, and other therapeutic options that best speak to a dual diagnosis.
Substance Abuse Disorders
A substance abuse disorder is diagnosed when the overuse of a substance begins to interfere with work, school, or social relationships. These conditions can also worsen (or cause) secondary medical conditions such as anxiety or depression. Someone struggling with substance abuse will often go to great lengths to hide their behaviors. They’ll begin to miss work or social engagements, act secretive, and pretend nothing is wrong. These behaviors can alienate friends and family and lead to further isolation.
Alcohol or drug dependency is a more serious condition that adds a physical reliance on a substance to the other symptoms mentioned. Many people with a dependency have failed in their attempts to quit, and now their bodies may be chemically dependent. This physical dependency is marked by heightened tolerance (more of a substance is needed to achieve the same chemical high) or withdrawal (extreme physical symptoms, such as seizures or fevers when substance use stops).
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
Some of the most common mental health disorders found in chemically dependent people are classified as mood and anxiety disorders. In addition, a high percentage of people with severe substance abuse disorders also develop mental illness as a byproduct of their substance abuse. Called severe because of the severity and length of episodes of illness, these mental health disorders include schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. (These latter two disorders with their symptoms of hallucinations or delusions are also sometimes called thought disorders.)
While there is often no consensus about which disorder developed first (mental health or substance abuse), there is no doubt that these two types of serious disorders are linked. Common categories of dual diagnoses in women are listed below.
Many women who struggle with addiction also struggle with eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia. Often, these disorders stem from a desire to levy some control over seemingly uncontrollable behaviors.
Mood disorders, such as major depression, bipolar, and dysthymia, can result from (or lead to) addictive substance use behaviors. Because many commonly abused substances (such as alcohol) are depressants, mood disorders can be a common side effect or worsened if they already existed.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder. Issues that fall under this umbrella include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Anxiety disorders are more likely to appear with stimulant use, such as cocaine.
If serious drug or alcohol abuse goes unchecked, severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder can result. These disorders are often characterized by prolonged, serious paranoia, breaks from reality, or hallucinations. With any prolonged substance abuse, there is a danger of serious, long-term side effects that can have serious psychological and physiological consequences.
Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders in Women
Because there can be inconsistency with cause and effect, it can be difficult to know when and how a co-occurring disorder developed. Many women enter into treatment for substance abuse disorders only to find out that there are one or more other disorders present. IT is highly common to be suffering from an additional disorder and not even know it. Often these co-occurring disorders manifest only after treatment has begun for a substance abuse disorder.
It’s extremely important to have professional help in the diagnosis of a co-occurring disorder so that both disorders can receive the appropriate treatment. Unless the root causes are determined and treated, many patients will relapse or never conquer their issues to begin with.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should ask about the possibility of a dual diagnosis:
- Severe guilt over uncontrollable behaviors
- Poor sleep habits or insomnia
- Multiple relapses
- Worsening social isolation from friends and family
- Using drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms for anxiety, etc
- Difficulty managing normal responsibilities such as work
- Development of new symptoms such as obsessive behaviors
- Extreme mood swings
Understanding the Need for a Dual Diagnosis Program
Denial is a common behavior in people who have a dual diagnosis. It’s easy to neglect self-care or lose a grip on the reality of one’s circumstances when in the grips of mental illness or substance abuse. Any number of mental illnesses common with a dual diagnosis can make someone feel like their life is not worth living or that treatment is pointless. Anxiety can push someone further and further from family and friends that may be a positive influence. It’s easy to get to a point where substance abuse seems like the only way to cope.
Getting your life back on track requires hope, trust, and often, professional help. At New Directions for Women, we understand how difficult it is to extend your trust to others, but relying on the members of your treatment team will make rehabilitation easier and more rewarding.
Treatment Options in a Dual Diagnosis Program
There is no single treatment option that works for everyone with a dual diagnosis. The range of mental health disorders is broad, and the relationship between your psychiatric condition and your substance abuse can be complicated. Individuals who have recently used drugs or alcohol or had severe symptoms of mental illness (such as suicidal ideation or psychotic episodes) may benefit from a residential treatment program.
Residential programs provide intense, around-the-clock care that might be necessary for a more severe case. Residential programs offer individuals who have struggled in vain or for a long time the opportunity to finally break free from their issues. Personalized care, constant support, supervision, and the comforts of home are some of the hallmarks of this type of care.
Outpatient care provides a high level of care without the need for constant supervision and overnight stay. Inpatient options might be appropriate if you or your loved one are physically and mentally stable enough to live at home and have a support system in place. Those in inpatient care need to be strongly dedicated to recovery. Without constant supervision, relapse becomes a real fear and possibility. Ideally, someone choosing outpatient care will not need detox and will have mastered many of the physical symptoms of substance abuse or their corresponding mental issues.
In both settings, professional counseling, accountability, and support are paramount to success.
Medication and Education for Dual Diagnosis
Whether in an inpatient or outpatient setting, pharmacological therapy is also a key component of treatment when it comes to a dual diagnosis program. Medications are often prescribed to stabilize moods, reduce anxiety and agitation, prevent flashbacks, or prevent hallucinations. While medication was once discouraged in this type of setting, modern substance abuse, and mental health professionals now understand it can be an integral part of successful treatment.
Educating spouses, partners, children, and siblings about addiction and mental health is another important part of your recovery. The more informed your loved ones are about the nature of your condition, the more likely they are to support you in your recovery journey. Family counseling, 12-step meetings, and peer support groups are available for friends and loved ones who want to help you meet your recovery goals.
It’s important to remember that any discussion about treatment unique to women is generalized-there are exceptions and many men face similar issues and can benefit from similar treatment plans. However, meeting the treatment needs of women must always take into account:
- Present and past relationship dynamics
- Relationship with her partner
For many women, relationships directly impact their self-esteem, and relationship issues can directly lead to a decline in self-worth. Women in these situations can feel as if they have no power or that their voice doesn’t matter. Often, there can be sexual trauma and lingering effects of harmful incidents in the past.
Women who experience serious relational disconnect are at risk for misdiagnosis and substance abuse. There may be a family history of abandonment or abuse or a damaged family dynamic. Studies done on the unique needs of women in treatment have emphasized the following in overcoming adversities:
- Building healthy communication strategies
- Managing stress
- Being assertive without getting aggressive
- Improving problem-solving skills
Begin Your Treatment Journey at New Directions for Women Today
If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of a mental health or substance abuse disorder, New Directions for Women is eager to help. Our professional staff has decades of experience in the treatment of mental health disorders and substance abuse. Contact us today to begin taking your life back!