Dual Diagnosis

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A person who suffers from alcohol abuse/alcoholism, drug abuse/drug addiction, and an emotional/psychiatric problem is said to have a dual diagnosis. To recover fully, the person will require addiction treatment and psychiatric treatment for both problems.
Dual diagnosis is a common diagnosis. Thirty-seven percent of people with alcohol abuse and fifty-three percent of people with drug abuse also have at least one serious mental illness. Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent suffer from alcohol abuse or drug abuse.

The following psychiatric problems can occur in Dual Diagnosis Anxiety disorders, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias, and other psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and personality disorders. Bipolar disorder and depression are often present.

Often the psychiatric problem develops first. In an attempt to feel calmer, peppier, or more cheerful, a person with emotional symptoms may drink or use drugs; doctors call this “self-medication.” Frequent self-medication may eventually lead to physical or psychological dependency on alcohol or drugs. If it does, the person then suffers from not just one problem, but two.
In a perfect world, both problems should be treated simultaneously. For any substance abuse problem, however, the first step in treatment must be detox – a period of time during which the body is allowed to cleanse itself of alcohol or drugs. Ideally, detox should take place under medical supervision. It can take a few days to a week or more, depending on what substances the person abused and for how long.

Until recently, alcoholics and drug addicts dreaded detox because it meant a painful and sometimes life-threatening “cold turkey” withdrawal. Now, doctors are able to provide those people with a drug addiction or alcohol addiction with carefully chosen medications while in detox, which can substantially ease withdrawal symptoms. Detox done under medical supervision is safer for the dually diagnosed.


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