Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe people who suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse. Various studies estimate that around 50% of mental illness is accompanied with substance abuse. Both adults and teens have dual diagnosis conditions. A dual diagnosis is both more difficult to diagnose and more difficult to treat than a single diagnosis. When dual diagnosis is suspected, it is important that the person be seen by a professional therapist.

How does someone end up with a dual diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis can develop in a couple of different ways. A person with a psychological problem, such as anxiety or depression can start using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Or a person can develop a dependency on drugs and alcohol that then triggers a psychological problem. Both of these paths to a dual diagnosis are common.

What are some common combinations?

There are many different combinations possible. The only criteria is that there is a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. However, some conditions are more common than others. Two of the most common conditions are depression coupled with alcoholism and bi-polar (manic depression) coupled with marijuana addiction. However, the combinations are not set in stone. Some people mask depression with a stimulant, or sometimes cutting.

  • Depression and Alcoholism
  • Bi-Polar and Marijuana
  • Cocaine and Anxiety
  • Opiates (Heroin) and PSTD
  • ADD/ADHD and Alcohol or Stimulants

Is Dual Diagnosis always severe?

Not necessarily. There are both mild and severe manifestations of any particular addiction and mental illness. The same applies for dual diagnosis. So, a dual diagnosis does not necessarily imply a major mental health issue. However, left untreated, there is a good chance that it will get worse over time, just like any other mental illness or addiction.

How does Dual Diagnosis relate to teens?

Mental illness can onset at any age. A child could have a a mental illness that was protected or overlooked in childhood, but became apparent when the child entered their adolescence. The added pressures of school and teen social relations can bring existing conditions to the forefront, or lead to a teen trying to cope by using drugs.

Social anxiety can lead to drug use in order to overcome awkwardness and fear when interacting in social situations. A teen with depression or ADD/ADHD may turn to cocaine to alleviate the symptoms. Bi-polar or schizophrenic teens may turn to marijuana to feel normal. Academic pressures in middle and high school can also bring existing mental problems into focus.

Early adolescence or the early teen years  is when kids may look for ways of treating themselves to cope with their mental illness. Often the drug of choice may be a good fit to treat the disorder. But, self-medicating is never a good option.

A young person who is mentally healthy can experience mental health problems through experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol destabilize the personality and lead to risky behavior. This in turn, can lead to traumatic events that lead to mental illness.

For teens, just as for adults, there is no one path to a dual diagnosis.

Is my teen an addict or self-medicating?

When teens self-medicate, the underlying mental illness does not get better. It gets worse. The substances used for self-medication are addictive and often cause physical health problems. Instead of treating the underlying mental illness, another problem is created, one that hides the mental illness and makes the mental illness that much harder to identify and treat.

If you suspect your teen is using drugs, they may be self-medicating. As a parent, that is something to be aware of. Kids with mental illnesses find ways to cure themselves. Why? Usually, there is a stigma associated with mental illness. Teens are aware of that, and the pressure to fit in and be well perceived, will cause them to hide problems that will affect their relationships with their peers..

What is the best way to help teen with dual diagnosis?

In the past, it has been difficult to get proper treatment for dual-diagnosis because treatments tended to be either for addiction or mental illness. However, that is changing. There is a growing awareness that both addiction and mental illness need to be treated at the same time for the treatment to be successful. Along with treatment, support services for family and friends are important to positive outcomes. If you suspect your teen has a dual diagnosis, it is important to go and get professional help.

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