What Can Happen If Dual Diagnosis Is Left Untreated

Posted On Monday, 10 June 2019
What Can Happen If Dual Diagnosis Is Left Untreated

Individuals who suffer from co-occurring mental illness and addiction often face unique obstacles to overcome in sobriety.

Unfortunately, many symptoms of mental health conditions are similar to the symptoms of substance abuse, so co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, this makes it important to diagnose and treat dual diagnosis patients for both disorders simultaneously.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders refer to the coexistence of mental health and substance use disorders that exacerbate one another. Mental Health America estimates that one in three people who suffer from depression will struggle with a substance use disorder during their lifetime. In addition, between 48 and 60% of people with bipolar disorder will also suffer from substance abuse. In total, approximately 50% of Americans who have a mental health condition also have a problem with substance abuse.

Overlapping Symptoms of Mental Illness and Addiction

Although the comorbidity of co-occurring disorders is high, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose a mental health condition since many of these symptoms are masked or mimicked by the symptoms of addiction.

Some common symptoms that can overlap between mental illness and addiction include:

  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Impulsive or risky behaviors
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
When in primary care settings, it is not unlikely for a mental health condition to be left undiagnosed. Although depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, the diagnosis is missed 50% of the time. If a dual diagnosis case goes undiagnosed, it can make symptoms more difficult to treat and make an individual more susceptible to relapse.

When Dual Diagnosis Is Left Untreated

Those who live with untreated mental illness face unique challenges that can make everyday life difficult. In addition, when symptoms go untreated, they can progress and get worse over time. When addiction is thrown into the mix, it can be exceptionally challenging to prevent relapse if mental health is left untreated. By receiving appropriate care through dual diagnosis treatment, those who suffer from co-occurring disorders will have the tools needed to improve their mental health and maintain their sobriety.

Whether mental illness or substance abuse came first, a person whose mental health is left untreated is likely to begin self-medicating to manage their symptoms. A person may attempt to cope with their symptoms alone, relapse, then experience a rapid decline in mental, physical, and emotional health. Failure to diagnose and treat co-occurring disorders can turn into a deadly cycle of drug abuse and an increasingly severe mental state.

Not only can untreated mental illness perpetuate drug abuse, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that it can take a toll on a multitude of socio-economic factors as well.

  • 90% of people who die by suicide have symptoms of a mental health condition.
  • More than 20% of prison inmates live with a mental illness.
  • Approximately 46% of homeless adults struggle with mental illness and substance use disorders.
  • Serious mental illness that results from a lack of treatment costs America $193.2 billion each year.
  • Mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization for youth and adults.
Any of these factors resulting from mental illness can provide obstacles for those in sobriety to overcome, therefore, making them less likely to stay sober and live a happy, successful life.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The purpose of dual diagnosis treatment is to recognize and treat mental illness and substance use disorders together by integrating addiction treatment and mental health care. An effective dual diagnosis treatment plan will tailor a course of action specified to meet an individual’s needs. One essential asset of dual diagnosis treatment is to find the right medication for an individual to help mitigate many of their mental health symptoms. However, medication alone is often not the sole solution when it comes to co-occurring disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is frequently used in dual diagnosis treatment. The premise behind CBT deals with the decisions and behaviors that individuals formulate based on their perception of the world and their surroundings. CBT challenges individuals to change the way they view themselves, their peers, and the world around them to teach healthier decision-making skills. Using CBT can arm individuals with the tools needed to view situations in a clear way and respond to them effectively.

Other forms of therapy that are popular in dual diagnosis treatment include holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and equine therapy. These alternative therapy techniques aim to teach individuals healthy ways to cope with their emotions, reduce stress, and promote relaxation.

Using dual diagnosis to treat co-occurring disorders can improve an individual’s sense of self-worth, develop healthy coping skills, and learn to deal with their mental health in a safe, healthy way. By doing so, individuals who suffer from co-occurring disorders can be armed with the tools they need to maintain sobriety and improve their overall quality of life.

Hailey Parks

Hailey Parks is in recovery from addiction and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She works with Clarksville Rehab to spread awareness around mental health and addiction to help break the stigma that often surrounds them.

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