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Understanding the Complexity of Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

Learn more about what dual diagnosis symptoms look like and the available treatment options that may help.

Table of Contents

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis means that you experience both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. Dual diagnosis symptoms can be scary if you’re trying to cope with them alone.1

A person with a dual diagnosis experiences both addiction and a mental health condition at the same time. Examples could include having:

  •  Major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder
  •  Generalized anxiety disorder and benzodiazepine use disorder
  •  Bipolar disorder and opioid use disorder
  •  Schizophrenia and cannabis use disorder
dual diagnosis symptoms

Other Names for Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is also known as co-occurring disorder or comorbidity. It can be challenging to treat because both conditions can interact and influence each other. This can make the recovery process more complex.

Effective treatment of dual diagnosis symptoms requires an integrated approach. It should address both the mental health and substance use aspects of the condition.

What Are Dual Diagnosis Symptoms?

The symptoms of dual diagnosis can vary. This depends on the type and severity of the mental health and substance use disorders involved. However, some common symptoms of dual diagnosis include:2
  •  Mood swings and emotional instability  
  •  Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  •  Using substances under dangerous situations
  • Loss of control of substance use  
  •  Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  •   Hallucinations or delusions
  •   Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  •   Withdrawal from family or friends
  •   Problems with work or school performance

It is important to note that these symptoms can be indicative of other conditions as well. A proper diagnosis should be made by a qualified healthcare professional.

How Do Dual Diagnosis Symptoms Interact?

In dual diagnosis, the symptoms of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder can interact. These symptoms can influence each other in several ways.

For example, a person with depression may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and reduce their symptoms. This could then lead to substance abuse or addiction.

Substance Abuse and Depression

Substance use can exacerbate the symptoms of depression and increase the risk of suicidal ideation or behavior. 

The side effects of drugs or alcohol can also mimic the symptoms of depression. This can make it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis and treat both conditions.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Similarly, anxiety can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Substance use can contribute to worsening anxiety symptoms. 

Chronic substance use can also damage the brain and nervous system. This could lead to long-term anxiety or mood disorders.3

In dual diagnosis, it is important to address both mental health and substance use.

Increased Dangers of Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

People with dual diagnosis may experience an increase in the severity of symptoms seen in a singular diagnosis. Some of these symptoms are detailed below.

Increased Severity and Complexity of Symptoms

Individuals with a dual diagnosis tend to have more severe and complex symptoms than those with only a mental health or substance use disorder. 

For example, they may experience more intense mood swings, hallucinations, or delusions.

Increased Risk of Suicide

Dual diagnosis is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation and behavior.4

This may be related to the severity of symptoms and the challenges of managing both conditions simultaneously.

Increased Risk of Medical Complications

Individuals with dual diagnosis are at a higher risk of developing medical complications like:5
  •  Liver damage
  •  Respiratory problems
  •  Infections

This may be due to the effects of substance abuse and chronic stress on the body.

Impaired Social and Occupational Functioning

Dual diagnosis can interfere with a person’s ability to:

  •  Maintain social relationships
  •  Perform daily activities
  •  Hold a job or attend school

This often leads to isolation and reduced quality of life.

Higher Rates of Relapse

Dual diagnosis is associated with a higher risk of relapse. This is because the interaction between mental health and substance use can make recovery more challenging and unpredictable.6

These symptoms can vary widely depending on the individual and the specific mental health and substance use disorders involved.

What Are Some Symptoms to Look Out For In Dual Diagnosis?

Some red flag symptoms that may show the presence of dual diagnosis are detailed below.

Sudden Changes in Mood or Behavior

An individual may experience sudden changes in mood. This can include increased anxiety or irritability. You may also want to look out for if their behavior becomes erratic or unpredictable. 

These may be signs of the presence of a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder.

Chronic Substance Use

This could include using drugs or alcohol daily or in large quantities. This may increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder or exacerbating existing symptoms.

Poor Impulse Control

A difficult time controlling impulses or engaging in risky behaviors could be a dual diagnosis symptom to look out for. It may show a sign of underlying mental health issues or substance abuse.

Withdrawal or Isolation

Withdrawing from social activities or relationships could show the presence of mental health or substance use issues.

Sudden Changes in Physical Appearance or Health

A possible sign of dual diagnosis symptoms could be experiencing sudden changes in physical appearance or health. This might include:

  •  Weight loss  
  •  DPoor hygiene
  •  Chronic illness

Difficulty with Daily Activities

Having a difficult time performing daily activities may be a sign of dual diagnosis symptoms. This could include:

  •  Going to work or school
  •  Maintaining relationships
  •  Managing personal responsibilities

How Do Symptoms Differ Among Disorders?

The symptoms of dual diagnosis can differ across different types of substances and various mental health disorders.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression

Individuals with a dual diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and depression may experience increased feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. They may also have a higher risk of suicide attempts.

Cannabis and Schizophrenia

In the case of cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia, individuals may experience increased paranoia, hallucinations, and cognitive impairment. They may also have a higher risk of developing long-term cognitive deficits or relapse.

It is important to note that the symptoms of dual diagnosis can vary. It can depend on the individual, substance used, and type of mental health disorder involved.7

Dual Diagnosis Symptoms Overlap

Many symptoms of substance use disorder and mental health disorders can overlap. This can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging. 

A qualified healthcare professional can help to identify the specific symptoms of dual diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment options.

Can Dual Diagnosis Symptoms Change Over Time?

Dual diagnosis involves the interaction between mental health and substance use disorders. This means symptoms can fluctuate and evolve over time.

For example, individuals with a dual diagnosis of opioid use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience fluctuations in anxiety levels and substance cravings.

Why Do Dual Diagnosis Symptoms Change?

Changes in symptoms may be related to a variety of factors. These include:

  •  Stress 
  •  Life events like losing a job or having a child  
  •  Medication changes  
  • Substance use patterns  
  •  Relationship problems  
  •  Traumatic events  
  •  Individual response to treatment  

The Need for A Comprehensive Treatment Plan

It is important for individuals with dual diagnosis to receive ongoing monitoring and support. This helps to address changes in symptoms and prevent relapse. 

A comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both the mental health and substance use aspects of the condition can help individuals:

  •  Manage their symptoms
  •  Reduce the risk of relapse

     

  •  Learn coping skills

     

  • Improve their quality of life

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

Substance use can have a significant impact on the evolution of dual diagnosis symptoms. For example, long-term substance use can cause changes in the brain and nervous system.
This could lead to persistent cognitive deficits and mood changes. But, reducing or quitting substance use can lead to improvements in mental health symptoms and well-being.

Mental health symptoms and substance use can also evolve over time. This is especially true if the dual diagnosis symptoms go untreated.

Patterns of Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

There are some patterns that are common in dual diagnosis symptoms. Some of these patterns are detailed below.

Self-Medication

Individuals with dual diagnosis may use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to reduce symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Co-Occurring Symptoms

Individuals with dual diagnosis often experience co-occurring symptoms. Where symptoms of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder interact and influence each other. 

For example, depression can worsen substance abuse, and substance abuse can worsen depression.

Impulsivity

Impulsivity is a common symptom of both mental health and substance use disorders. It may lead to risky or dangerous behaviors, such as driving under the influence or engaging in unsafe sexual practices.

Social Withdrawal

Individuals with dual diagnosis may withdraw from social relationships, work, or school. 

This could be due to the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. It could also be due to the impact of their symptoms on their daily functioning.

Individualized Experiences

These patterns or trends can vary widely depending on the individual and the specific mental health and substance use disorders involved. Not everyone who experiences dual diagnosis symptoms will experience these patterns.

How Do Dual Diagnosis Symptoms Differ From a Single Diagnosis?

The severity and duration of symptoms can differ in individuals with dual diagnosis as compared to those with a single diagnosis of either a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder.

More Severe and Chronic Symptoms

In dual diagnosis, the presence of both mental health and substance use disorders can lead to more severe and chronic symptoms. The interaction between the two conditions can exacerbate each other. 

This can make it more challenging to manage symptoms in an effective way, resulting in a longer duration of symptoms and a higher risk of relapse.

Potential Symptoms

Those with dual diagnosis may experience more complex and co-occurring symptoms, such as:

  •  Mood swings
  •  Hallucinations 
  •  Cognitive deficits  

This can further impact their ability to function on a daily basis. It can lead to social isolation, relationship problems, and difficulty maintaining employment or attending school.

Single Diagnosis Symptoms vs. Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

In contrast, individuals with a single diagnosis of either a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder may have symptoms that are less severe and more manageable. 

This depends on the specific diagnosis and the individual’s response to treatment. But, this does not mean that a single diagnosis is less challenging or significant than a dual diagnosis.

It is important to note that every individual’s experience with mental health and substance use disorders is unique.

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis

Effective treatment options for dual diagnosis usually involve an integrated and individualized approach. Treatment should address both the mental health and substance use aspects of the condition. 

Some effective treatment options for dual diagnosis are detailed below.

Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medications are commonly used to treat dual diagnosis symptoms. These medications may include:

  •  Antidepressants like sertraline  
  •  Antipsychotics like quetiapine
  •  Mood stabilizers like lithium
  •  Medications like Vivitrol and Antabuse to reduce cravings or withdrawal symptoms related to substance use disorders

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are effective in helping individuals to learn coping skills and manage symptoms. Some effective therapies include:8

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides peer support and a safe environment. It helps individuals to:

  •  Discuss their experiences (CBT)
  •  Share coping strategies
  •  Receive feedback and encouragement

Family Therapy

Family therapy involves family members in the treatment process. It helps improve communication, relationships, and coping strategies.

Support Groups

Support groups can provide a sense of community and ongoing support for individuals in recovery. Examples include:

  •  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  •  Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  •  SMART Recovery

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle modifications can improve health and reduce the risk of relapse. These include:

  •  Exercise
  •  Nutrition
  •  Meditation
  •  Deep breathing

For treatment to be effective for dual diagnosis, it should focus on the individual’s unique needs. It may involve a combination of these and other interventions.

How Boardwalk Recovery Center Can Help With Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

Boardwalk Recovery Center specializes in providing comprehensive care for individuals with dual diagnoses. Our experienced team of healthcare professionals offers a range of evidence-based treatment options, including:

  •  Medication-assisted therapy
  •  Individual therapy
  •  Group therapy
  •  Meditation and mindfulness
  •  Life skills building
  •  Case management services

Our Mission

At Boardwalk Recovery, we understand that each person’s journey to recovery is different. This is why we focus on individualized treatment to help people manage their symptoms and achieve lasting recovery. 

We are committed to helping individuals with dual diagnosis symptoms achieve their goals and improve their overall quality of life. We do this by tailoring your treatment plan to meet your specific needs.

Contact Boardwalk Recovery Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with dual diagnosis symptoms, know that you don’t have to struggle alone. 

For more information about our available treatment options, reach out to Boardwalk Recovery Center today at 858.888.0101 or contact us here. 

https://boardwalkrecoverycenter.com/about-us/sober-living/ https://boardwalkrecoverycenter.com
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