Mental disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs) are conditions very different from one another, albeit often occurring together. The degree to which they complement each other is disturbing and individuals who are challenged by both have a difficult time managing the symptoms of these conditions together. When these two conditions develop in a person, it is called co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.

The sunset of mental disorders and SUDs does not happen at once. A person who is struggling with psychological stressors may self-medicate himself or herself as a coping strategy, thus leading to dual diagnosis. Or, individuals addicted to substances like alcohol and drugs may suffer a worsened mental state, causing the development of dormant and undercoming mental illnesses.

Although the conditions categorized under co-occurring disorders are vast, dual diagnosis is a specific term to describe the state of a person who is experiencing a mental disorder and an SUD in parallel. Regardless of which condition developed first, dual diagnosis is a definite and complicated condition to live with.

Common types of co-occurring disorders

Oftentimes, many individuals who experience a debilitating psychiatric disorder also struggle with substance use. Although there are various forms of dual diagnosis, some are more common than the others. Given below are some of the dual diagnosis combinations that occur commonly:

  • Depression and heroin: When a person uses heroin, he or she experiences a surge in the level of dopamine that causes a euphoric high. Individuals grappling with the challenges of depression may seek drug to lift their mood as a self-medication measure. However, frequent heroin use is associated with less production of dopamine in the brain and changes in neurotransmitter activities that can prevent a person from being happy when they are not on the drug. This is also a major risk factor for developing depression.
  • Anxiety disorders and cocaine: Cocaine is a stimulant that makes the user feel euphoric and all-powerful. However, cocaine dependence is linked to the development of various anxiety disorders. Some of the effects of cocaine use entail paranoia, suspicion, insomnia, violent behavior, hallucinations, etc. These symptoms lead to the development of chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders among cocaine users even when they are not on the drug.
  • Schizophrenia and marijuana: Schizophrenia and marijuana abuse often go hand in hand. Individuals with schizophrenia often risk the development of substance abuse as they encounter countless hardships while grappling with the various challenges of their condition. Although it is still unclear why people suffering from schizophrenia abuse marijuana, there are evidence suggesting increased coexistence of both. When these individuals use marijuana, it generally aggravates their symptoms. Similarly, a person who uses marijuana often is intolerable to experiencing sensations similar to a schizophrenic episode and risks the danger of triggering any under symptoms.
  • PTSD and opioids: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition of the brain that causes flashbacks of a traumatic event, such as a severe accident, sexual or physical abuse, death of a loved one, natural calamities, etc. PTSD can occur even in the scenarios where someone other than the individual is not in danger. Since individuals with PTSD display the signs of hyperarousal, avoidance, flashbacks and nightmares, they may rely on drugs and alcohol to self-medicate themselves. However, the abuse of opioids is more pronounced among these individuals. This is due to the potential of opioids to alleviate pain and incite euphoric effects. Similarly, individuals who abuse opioids display characteristics akin to the symptoms of PTSD during drug use and withdrawal.

Path to recovery

Despite being different from each other, substance abuse and mental disorders are responsible for triggering each other. The co-occurrence of both the conditions can make treatment quiet challenging and troublesome. To effectively treat such comorbid diseases, it is essential to ensure that both the disorders are treated simultaneously.