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
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
- Social, recreational, and work-related
activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.
and Substance Abuse Disorder
Alliance for the Mentally Ill
|Co-occurring Disorders Fact Sheet
Mental Health America
on Dual Diagnosis
|Overview of Substance
Abuse and Mental Illness
Diagnosis Recovery Network
Dual Diagnosis Website