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Receiving A Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse And Mental Disorders

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Did you know that up to 53% of people who have substance abuse problems also have a mental condition, and are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol? If you are coping with drug or alcohol addiction, you may not even be aware that this could be driving your addictive behaviors. Three main categories of mental disorders exist that can predispose one to substance abuse, and will be discussed in this article.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorders I and II, and their milder forms: dysmythia, and cyclomythia. 

Persons who suffer from depression tend to abuse alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, or other stimulants like caffeine and even cocaine. Alcohol may blunt the depressive symptoms at first but then continual abuse gradually worsens depression. Marijuana in small doses can relieve depression because it increases serotonin levels in the brain. Amphetamines may appear to help at first, but a user's body soon develops a tolerance for the drug, and It requires more and more to get any desirable effect from them.

People who have bipolar disorder often use pain pills, alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines to help them through depressive episodes and periods of mania that cause insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. The stimulants may be desirable to help them continue to work and take care of other daily duties.

If you have depression or bipolar disorder, this means that one or more of the neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline) in your body are out of balance. You may be treated with an antidepressant, anticonvulsant, a mood stabilizer, or other medication to counteract this imbalance.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) are also effective for helping people to cope effectively with a mood disorder.


A person that suffers from schizophrenia may also find it hard to keep a job, so they may end up in undesirable circumstances. In this situation, they will tend to abuse whatever is readily available to them. Symptoms most often appear when a person reaches adolescence or are in their twenties, and this condition is genetic in origin.

Alcohol is most commonly used to self-medicate, but marijuana and cocaine are also commonly used.

Nicotine may be especially problematic for a schizophrenic, and it will interfere with the drugs used to treat the condition, so this addiction will be need to be addressed in treatment.

Medications used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and various types of antidepressants. A treatment plan will also include teaching living skills, giving assistance in obtaining housing and necessities, and encouraging the client to participate in supportive group therapy.

Personality Disorders

Dealing with a personality disorder such as borderline, antisocial, and another type, makes a person more prone to abuse marijuana, alcohol, and tranquilizers, which can blunt extreme emotions. People often develop personality disorders as a result of abuse, neglect, or inconsistent parenting, but there is evidence that these can also have a genetic component.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) addresses the psycho-social aspect of these disorders, and helps clients learn to handle triggers better plus learn impulse control. Medications are more problematic for personality disorders. However, atypical antipsychotics can be prescribed temporarily, and antidepressants may be also be used. Criminality is often a feature of untreated personality disorders, so a treatment program will also involve helping clients to receive training and obtain jobs, so they can support themselves adequately, and stay out of trouble.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Usually the substance use disorder (SUD) has to be treated first to ascertain whether your mental symptoms are relieved by abstaining from the addictive substance, or not. Some symptoms of SUD can mimic classic mental disorders but will subside in time after you have stopped using addictive substances. If the symptoms remain, this is indicative of an underlying psychological condition, and it must be treated as well, to help you remain in recovery. Talk to a professional like Dr. Lewis A. Weber & Associates for more information.