May 2020: Mental Health Awareness Month

In honor of mental health awareness month which has now come to a close, Portage is shedding some light on a common form of diagnosis that is often unrecognized by the general public: dual diagnosis. What is it? What are the warning signs? When and how should co-occurring disorders be treated?

What is a dual diagnosis?

Simply put, when a patient is professionally diagnosed with a mental health issue and a substance abuse problem, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Substance abuse can be defined by the existence of physical and psychological dependence on one or more substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, prescription medication, and synthetic drugs. When a person is unable to stop using drugs (even if they desperately want to) and begin experiencing both intense cravings and subsequent withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, that person can be considered an addict.

Due to its medical diagnostic nature, it is extremely important that a person experiencing these symptoms seek professional treatment as soon as possible. While not always the case, there can sometimes be a number of common mental health disorders that present themselves alongside drug addiction. Some examples of these are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. In some cases, the drug addiction comes first and after steady drug use, mental health issues can arise. The majority of the time, mental illness symptoms present themselves first and, in an attempt to cope with the debilitating struggles, patients often turn to drugs and/or alcohol to temporarily evade symptoms. It is important to distinguish that not all persons suffering from addiction are mentally ill. For those who are not, a treatment involving psychosocial therapies are very well responded to, without treating mental illness concurrently.

What are the warning signs?

How can you tell if someone is suffering from a dual diagnosis? The signs of co-occurring disorders are generally unique from person to person. Symptoms depend on the type of substance being abused and the severity of the mental illness. It is important to observe the signs, which can include but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty managing responsibilities and daily tasks
  • Sudden change in behavior
  • Uncared for health and hygiene
  • Avoidance of social settings and activities
  • Cognitive impairments or negative thinking
  • Erratic and impulsive behaviors
  • Poor management of finances
  • Poor performance in school or at work
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Refusal to seek therapy

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), persons suffering from drug addiction are twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders.

Persons with several mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, are four times more likely to be heavy alcohol users and five times more likely to smoke tobacco daily.

When and how co-occurring disorders should be treated?

Both drug addiction and mental illness should be treated at the same time, hence the dual diagnosis. Because symptoms from one diagnosis can affect the other and vice-versa, both must be focused on in a comprehensive treatment plan. Having to deal with drug addiction and mental health diseases at the same time makes everything twice as complicated. Since 1995, Portage successfully treats patients with dual diagnoses.

Mentally Ill Chemical Abusers

The MICA program at Portage recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. This specialized program helps men and women with mental illness overcome their substance abuse issues. Through therapeutic groups who have experienced similar struggles, residents collectively work through their substance abuse issues and develop skills and competencies to better handle the challenges that arise from everyday life. Some of the objectives at MICA are to eliminate abusive consumption of drugs and alcohol, have a greater understanding of mental illness management, develop social competencies, and eventually reintegrate into society.

For most people, asking for help is often the most difficult. To learn more about your treatment options and how Portage can help, please click here or call us at (514) 935-3431.

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