It can be hard for those never having dealt with alcohol or drug addiction to comprehend how difficult it can be to escape this type of behaviour. Physical and mental addiction is hard to overcome – the problem is not just stopping but in staying stopped for good. The situation is further complicated because many of the individuals in this situation are self-medicating an undiagnosed mental health problem. It is often the case that the person feels unable to break free of addiction until this other issue is dealt with; however, it may not be possible to diagnose this other condition until the individual stops abusing alcohol or drugs. It is a catch 22 situation.
Dual diagnosis refers to a situation whereby the individual has a mental health problem alongside his or her addiction. In some situations, the person will know that this other condition exits but it is often the case they are completely oblivious to the cause of their symptoms; they may just assume it is part of addiction. A dual diagnosis can involve almost any mental health problem but the most commonly ones associated with addiction include:
- anxiety disorder
- bipolar disorder
- borderline personality
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- attention deficit disorder
- social phobia
- eating disorders
It is common for the symptoms of mental health problems to first make an appearance during the teenage years. These symptoms may be subtle in the beginning and the young person may have no real reason to suspect that something serious is going on. It may be around this time that the individual realises that he or she can feel a bit better by drinking or using drugs. This behaviour is known as self-medicating, but the individual may be completely oblivious to the fact that this is what he or she is doing; they just feel better when using these substances.
In the beginning, using alcohol or drugs can make the person feel a little better, but this is a case of the cure often being worse than the disease. This is because individuals develop a tolerance for these substances, meaning they have to keep on taking more and more to get the same effect. Eventually it reaches a stage where the negative effects of the substance abuse far outweigh any benefits. It is also common for these conditions to be made much worse by the substance abused – for example, alcohol is a depressant so it worsens the symptoms of depression.
As well as those heading into addiction due to an untreated mental health problem, there are also others who develop a problem due to this behaviour. Alcohol and drugs is not only toxic for the body, it can also cause damage to the mind; for example, alcohol-induced depression is very common.
Until the mental health issue is dealt with, the individual can struggle to stay sober. This is because they will not have any real way of coping with their symptoms. Substance abuse is a terrible solution, but it will usually feel better than no solution at all. The other alternative is to treat the mental health problem first, but this is also difficult because the person who is abusing alcohol or drugs can be so hard to treat. The substance abuse will mean that many drugs can be used, and it hugely reduces the impact of therapy.
The only viable way to help people escape this catch 22 situation is to provide dual diagnosis treatment. This is where both of the conditions are treated simultaneously. This way the person will already have the tools they need to cope with any symptoms so there is less of a need for them to turn to addiction. Many rehabs today are capable of providing this type of treatment in the UK and elsewhere in the world.