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Substance Abuse/Dual Diagnosis

What is substance abuse, and what is a dual diagnosis?
People suffering from mental illness often try to self-medicate, to make themselves feel better by using drugs or alcohol. This can take many forms that most people are familiar with: a company executive who drinks cocktails with lunch to get through anxiety attacks on stressful days; a college student suffering from depression who snorts cocaine to get through the semester; a mother and housewife who is so self-conscious and fearful that she needs packs of cigarettes and tranquilizers just to leaver her home.

All of these people share something in common – they are what is commonly called dual diagnosis patients – someone battling two different problems at once. This is also referred to as having a co-occuring illness. Today, mental health professionals are finding more and more people who suffer from both substance abuse and mental illness. Many experts believe that more than half of people who suffer from one of these conditions suffers from both.

What are the symptoms of substance abuse?
Substance abuse is the use of drugs or alcohol to the point where it begins to harm a person’s life – social or family relationships, job performance, or physical health. It has many causes, including genetic factors and use as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. A person with at least three of these symptoms may be diagnosed with substance abuse:

  • The need to increase the amounts of a substance in order to become intoxicated or a diminished effect from continued use of the same amount.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shaking, insomnia, agitation, and sweating following a reduction in the amount of a substance taken.
  • In order to ease withdrawal symptoms, a person takes more of the substance.
  • Despite a person's efforts, discontinuing use of the substance is not possible.
    Large amounts of time and effort are spent trying to get the substance or recover from its use.
  • The amount of a substance is increased over time, beyond any amount originally intended.
  • The substance is still used despite the knowledge of its harmful effects on a person's physical and mental condition.
  • Social, recreational, and work-related activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.

Other Sources of Information

  Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorder
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Co-occurring Disorders Fact Sheet
Mental Health America
Comprehensive information on Dual Diagnosis
About.com
Overview of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
Dual Diagnosis Recovery Network
The Dual Diagnosis Website