Dual Diagnosis Therapy: Alcoholism and Mental Illness

Alcoholism is an extremely powerful disease and can be one of the most difficult to overcome. Recovery takes a lot of hard work, but the gifts you receive in sobriety can be more than you ever could have hoped for. One of the biggest hurdles many alcoholics have to overcome is suffering from a dual diagnosis. Whether they began drinking as a form of self-medication, or developed a mental illness as a result of their drinking, alcoholics must make sure that they address both of these problems to ensure a serene life in sobriety.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when someone suffers from both the disease of addiction as well as a form of mental illness or disorder. Having an untreated dual diagnosis is a leading cause of relapse, as it can be one of the greatest triggers. When an alcoholic has that moment of clarity where he decides to get sober, it’s mostly because he’s tired of living the way he’s been living. This is a great motivation to stay sober. However, when a mental disorder that’s out of an individual’s control is causing him to have confusing feelings, he might want to turn to alcohol to get away from those feelings.

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The most common mental illnesses include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Bipolar Disorder

Addiction to alcohol can sometimes start during childhood, due to an undiagnosed mental illness. When children are growing up, they’re already confused about who they are and what they’re feeling due to their bodies maturing and the effects their hormones have on them. They can sometimes try to hide these strange feelings of anxiety or depression because they’re embarrassed or confused. If their parents or doctors aren’t aware of what they’re going through, then it’s common for young people to turn to alcohol as a solution.

No matter the age of a person, if they don’t seek help for these symptoms of mental illness, they can become reliant upon alcohol in order to feel “normal.” When a person uses alcohol as a form of self-medication for an extended period of time, his mind and body will become dependent on alcohol, thus triggering an addiction even if the individual isn’t genetically predisposed to addiction.

Treating Alcoholism and Mental Disorders

Another common scenario is for people to believe they’re suffering from a dual diagnosis, when in actuality their alcoholism is causing these symptoms. Long-term alcoholism can make a person feel symptoms of depression and anxiety because of the damage the alcohol is doing to certain parts of the brain. Sometimes these types of alcoholics will seek psychiatric help for these symptoms without fully disclosing their problems with alcohol and will be misdiagnosed. This can leave them scared and confused because the medications aren’t making these feelings go away.

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The first step in treatment is for the alcoholic to go through a medical detoxification. Once the body and mind are cleared of alcohol, an addiction specialist can then properly evaluate the individual to see if he suffers from a dual diagnosis. The good news is that if the person does have some type of mental illness, there are many different non-narcotic medications specifically for recovering alcoholics to help treat these symptoms and give them a better chance at recovery.

If you’d like more information about recovery from alcoholism, call our helpline today at 800-447-9081.

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