Dual Diagnosis is the term used to describe people with mental health problems who also use drugs and or alcohol.
There is a broad spectrum of mental health disorders ranging from severe and enduring mental illness, such as bi-polar or schizophrenia through to the so-called milder mental health disorders, such as anxiety and personality disorders. Types of substances used, their effects and potential difficulties can also range from cannabis and alcohol to so-called harder drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. Dual diagnosis for example, may refer to someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who uses cannabis, someone who is depressed and drinking heavily or someone who uses heroin and is suffering from anxiety.
People with this combination of problems often have lots of other difficulties. They are more likely to come into contact with services, in crisis, with problems relating to social, legal, housing, welfare and ‘lifestyle’ matters.
How common is it?
Dual diagnosis is very common. Research suggests that between 22 to 44 per cent of inpatients in psychiatric hospitals also have problems with drug or alcohol use, and up to half of these are dependent on street drugs. It’s possible that as many as two-thirds of people who come into contact with drug or alcohol treatment services may also have some kind of mental health problem.
What are the symptoms?
Mental illness, alcohol and drugs can affect people in different ways. Substance misuse may lead to mental health problems or make them worse, having a mental illness may lead to harmful or dependent substance misuse and people may use substances to help with the symptoms of their mental illness.
How can dual diagnosis be treated?
Assessing which is the primary and secondary problem may be possible, but is not always helpful and could lead to barriers in accessing treatment. Treating the mental health and drug and/or alcohol problem together should be the treatment of choice, ideally within the same service – that is known as an “integrated” approach and is recommended in national guidelines.
Click on Dual Diagnosis Training to access a free innovative online awareness raising e-learning programme aimed at clinical staff, people who use services and their carers and other interested parties.
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