Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe comorbidity, or co-occurring disorders, of substance abuse and one or more mental health conditions. Millions of Americans have a dual diagnosis of conditions of alcoholism and mental illness.
In the past, the complex relationship between alcoholism and mental illness was less understood in the United States. For example, people with alcoholism or alcohol dependence may have been required to stop drinking before getting treatment for mental illness.
Now, the close relationship between mental illness and substance use disorders, such as depression and alcoholism, is well established by research. Mental health disorders and alcoholism are closely linked.
Alcohol misuse may produce symptoms of a mental health disorder or worsen existing symptoms. Further, people with a mental illness are at higher risk of abusing substances such as alcohol or other drugs.
Without proper mental health treatment, people with depression and alcoholism may self-medicate. This means they may increase alcohol consumption in an attempt to gain relief from their symptoms of depression.
Because of the close relationship between depression and alcoholism, mental health disorders and alcoholism are commonly treated together. This helps achieve higher rates of recovery.
Why Do Alcoholism And Depression Occur Together?
People with alcoholism are much more likely to develop symptoms of mental illness. In turn, those with a mental illness are at higher risk of alcohol or drug use.
However, researchers cannot find why this happens, or why alcoholism and mental health disorders co-occur together so frequently.
They believe substance abuse and mental disorders may develop together due to one or more of the following reasons:
- common risk factors such as genetic predisposition (family history), stress, and trauma
- underlying mental health disorder as a driving factor of alcoholism
- self-medicating depressive symptoms with alcohol
- people who abuse alcohol developing mental illness due to changes that occur within the brain from alcohol or drug abuse
Other mental health and mood disorders that commonly co-occur with alcoholism include:
- bipolar disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
People with both depressive disorder and alcohol problems may have a harder time in recovery, compared to people who only struggle with one disorder.
Symptoms Of Depression And Alcoholism
Individuals who drink to improve symptoms of depression will find that depression symptoms often worsen, leading to an increased tendency to self-medicate with alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can lead to major depression symptoms and an increased risk of suicide.
Some symptoms of depression include:
- negative emotions such as sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- mood swings, outbursts of anger, frustration
- inability to gain pleasure from normal activities
- lack of appetite and weight loss
- increased appetite and weight gain
- slowed thinking and difficulty concentrating
- recurrent thoughts of death, suicide
- suicide attempts
- unexplained body pain
Symptoms of alcoholism often lead an individual to neglect personal responsibilities and an inability to control alcohol consumption.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. When an individual finds it difficult to cope with daily life without consuming alcohol, it is likely they suffer from alcohol use disorder.
Some symptoms of alcoholism include:
- inability to control alcohol consumption
- being unable to stop alcohol consumption
- alcohol cravings
- continuing to drink alcohol in spite of negative consequences
- consuming alcohol in unsafe situations, such as driving
- increased tolerance of alcohol that leads to needing more alcohol to gain the same effects
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop drinking
How A Dual Diagnosis Affects Substance Abuse Treatment
A dual diagnosis condition may require the treatment of both co-occurring disorders, such as alcoholism and symptoms of depression, at the same time.
An integrated treatment approach that includes detox, mental health support services, and medical advice is recommended for dual diagnosis conditions.
Treating mental health and alcoholism is often more complex than treating substance abuse alone. Effective substance abuse treatment for the dual diagnosis condition requires addressing factors of addiction, mental health disorder, and the person’s overall physical condition.
Treating both alcoholism and depression together maximizes an individual’s chances of a successful recovery.
Getting Help For Alcoholism And Depression
Unfortunately, there is a higher risk of suicide among individuals with both alcoholism and depression.
Therefore, it is important that anyone who has major depression and is also addicted to alcohol has access to supportive treatment that will ensure a safe recovery from both conditions.
People with the dual diagnosis of alcoholism and depression may continue to rationalize alcohol abuse in order to maintain a false sense of wellness.
Without medical assistance, people with both alcoholism and depression may struggle with heavy drinking and symptoms of the psychiatric disorder for many years.
Several treatment options and alcohol treatment programs are available to support the safe withdrawal from alcohol abuse for an individual with a co-occurring mental illness.
Medical advice and an integrated treatment approach is based on the needs of the patient and may be performed at both inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.
If you, a family member, or a loved one suffers from alcoholism and depression, or if you have any questions about substance abuse programs, please connect with our treatment center through our helpline today.
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- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — Substance Use Disorders
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Treatment of the Depressed Alcoholic Patient
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol’s Effects on Health
- National Institutes of Health — The Challenge of Dual Diagnosis
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Development of psychiatric illness in drug abusers. Possible role of drug preference
- Mayo Clinic — Symptoms of Depression
- Mayo Clinic — Symptoms of Alcoholism