Does drug dependency lead to mental illness, or does mental illness cause dependency?

Article by Carla Waters

For many therapists, treating a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse is comparable to the age-old conundrum: which came first — the chicken or the egg? They strive to deliver quality care by identifying and treating whichever condition came first. By treating what came first in the sequence of events, they believe that patients can expect an improvement in the condition that came second. It is not often the case, however, that ameliorating an earlier condition will lead to improvement in a subsequent condition. 

Although a mental health disorder does sometimes lead to addiction for some individuals, this does not necessarily have to be the case. Certain types of drug use, such as over-indulgence in hallucinogens, can cause permanent changes to the brain’s structure and chemistry which may result in long term mental health issues including anxiety and schizophrenia.

It is paramount for clinicians to gain insights into a patient’s health and history prior to delivering treatment tailored to their dual diagnosis, especially because narrowly concentrating on just one of a pair of disorders likely won’t contribute significantly to long-term progress.

Recovery from multiple conditions: the Strengths of a multifaceted approach

While traditional treatment for substance abuse disorders may offer short-term relief, it is unlikely to lead to a lasting recovery. Consequently, the majority of addiction medicine professionals are now proposing a dual treatment plan that addresses both addiction and mental illness at once. Rather than only treating the apparent symptoms, this form of therapy encourages a complete and holistic approach tailored to address an individual’s core issues.

It is essential to identify the triggers behind behavior in dual diagnosis patients rather than merely focusing on the conduct itself. Moreover, it is essential to identify the causes of substance use in addition to a clinical diagnosis of any mental health condition. Did the substance use begin to combat anxiety? To reduce the effects of depression? To attempt to conceal feelings of loneliness and exclusion? Understanding the root causes of these experiences and decisions makes it simpler to provide powerful coping strategies, therapeutic techniques, and psychoanalytical treatment paths that will ultimately lead to improved health and wellbeing.

Carla Waters writes from the United States (The Florida House Experience [FHE], 505 S. Federal Hwy #2, Deerfield Beach, Florida, 33441)
On behalf of the FHE Health Outreach Team 

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