A person with co-morbidity or dual diagnosis disorder has a mental disorder and an alcohol and/or an illicit drug abuse problem and/or prescription abuse such as tranquilizers and sleep medications, etc.

These conditions occur together frequently. Approximately half of people who have a mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives or vice versa.

Dual diagnosis occurs when a person has a mood disorder or mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as an example, as well as a substance abuse problem. Both disorders require their own treatment plan, however one is often overlooked or thought of as a symptom of the other and does not get treatment.

We all know that a few drinks make you more relaxed, more comfortable in social situations and less likely to feel anxious or awkward around other people. So it’s not surprising that people with social anxiety are more inclined to develop drinking problems and become dependent on alcohol to function around other people.

This kind of self-medication often occurs in people who do not know they have a mental illness or don’t have the ability to access proper healthcare. When they can’t manage the situation in the proper medical way, it’s not surprising that those who suffer from a mental illness turn to illegal substances to help them get by. Sadly, without proper treatment, these habits often turn into addictions that exacerbate their mental illness rather than curing it.

Certain parts of the brain are affected by both drug abuse and mental illnesses. For example, the “happy hormone” dopamine, or lack thereof, is involved in certain illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.

Dopamine is also released when certain illicit substances, such as heroin, are consumed. Consequently, one often finds that people with mental illnesses this will affect their dopamine levels and are most susceptible to abusing drugs that release a rush of dopamine into the brain.

Those who suffer mental illnesses are then at risk of becoming dependent on the dopamine high that they achieve from their drug of choice and developing a drug problem.

A person with a mental illness may start self-medication in order to deal with symptoms of their illness, which in turn may result in them developing a substance abuse problem. A study has shown that over half of returning veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder also suffer some sort of substance abuse disorder.

The reverse is also true; someone that has a substance abuse problem may develop a mental illness as a result of addiction. For example, it has been proven that marijuana can increase the chances of developing psychosis or paranoia, so someone that has no previous history of mental illness may develop psychotic disorder because of previous marijuana dependence.

Unfortunately, this then becomes a never-ending cycle, as the psychotic person becomes more and more dependent on marijuana to mask their symptoms, there by increasing their psychosis.

Other drugs can trigger the same results as marijuana such as methamphetamine, cocaine and the newest one in town, kratom.

More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use problem. Substance use problems occur more frequently with certain mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders such as borderline personality, obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorders to name a few.

“There is hope, even when your brain says there isn’t,” said John Green.

(Rita Overfield is an advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Park County.)

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